Air/Au Revoir Simone @ Birmingham Academy, 14/11/07

I missed Au Revoir Simone when I went to see We Are Scientists a while back and kicked myself for it. If you’ve not come across their floaty-light ethereal pop tunes, and if that description even half interests you, then I’d urge you to pick up one of their albums. Unfortunately, despite turning up earlier than I usually do I still managed to miss them so this portion of the review comes courtesy of a couple of my friends (hi Kelly and Rich) who I bumped into as I arrived. They’d bought tickets just to see Au Revoir Simone and were going home perfectly happy. I guess that’s a ringing endorsement from them then.

I guess the reason the earlier start times caught me out is that here at Culturedeluxe we often cover brand new acts who are touring debut albums and so don’t have much scope for playing long sets. They also don’t have the luxury of varying what they play very much either. Air on the other hand have built up a pretty big back catalogue since ‘Moon Safari’ came out nine years ago. Although the thought that occurred to me is that most people wouldn’t know much of the newer material if it jumped out of a Sofia Coppola film and spat in their popcorn.

So, on stage slightly earlier than I was accustomed to seeing a main act at the Academy, the enviably cool-looking Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin (plus extra band members) took their positions, the former in amongst a bank of keyboards, the latter centre-stage with keyboard, microphone and guitars to hand.

I won’t pretend to remember the first few songs that were played. Partly because I don’t know the Air oeuvre inside out, but also because the opening tracks were so dull that I can’t remember the last time my mind was allowed to wander quite so far. To a backing track of lulling space rock and the sight of some admittedly impressive lighting I did some thoroughly satisfying thinking on any number of things, although the need to do a competent gig review wasn’t one of them.

The first ‘Moon Safari’ moment came four or five songs in and the volume of the cheer snapped me out of my reverie. The acclaim was telling, especially as it was only for ‘Talisman’. I suspect people were just glad to have something they recognised to gently nod their heads to. When it was followed by ‘Run’ from ‘Talkie Walkie’ the couple in front of me looked at each other and headed for door. Another couple followed suit after a rather lovely ‘Cherry Blossom Girl’.

Those that were considering slipping off were given another piece of ‘Moon Safari’ to hold their attention. ‘Remember’ was pounded out surprisingly hard, provoking some raucous head-nodding over to the left of me but normal, hazy service was continued after that, and so the early departures resumed. I recognised a couple of new songs from ‘Pocket Symphony’ among them but am struggling to name them. Restlessness in the crowd was starting to show.

Relief came in the form of ‘Kelly Watch The Stars’ which was played with some gusto and allowed the crowd to move a little. Even so, this excursion into liveliness felt perfunctor. After that the duo stepped to the front of the stage, bowed and exited, leaving lights sweeping the stage and an alternating synth tone playing. I have to say we were confused. Surely it was too early for an encore so what was happening? An interval? Costume changes? Perhaps drawing a line between the soporific first half of the show and a livelier second half.

Sure enough, back they came (in the same outfits) but our guesses were only half right. The pace certainly picked up – ‘Sexy Boy’s synths crashed like waves over the audience while the bassline drove on through. ‘La Femme d’Argent’ was absolutely glorious, slowly shifting and building from the easy, babbling sound of the album version into a pulsing electronic gem that sparkled darkly, strobe lights flashing across the layers of effects. It was so much better for being an unexpected twist on what I’d previously considered a pretty harmless tune. Now things were starting to get interesting…

But that was it. As quickly as things had built up they stopped. Nicolas and Jean-Benoit exited stage right smiling and waving as they went and the house lights came up – all the better for the crowd to check their watches and look bemusedly at each other, realising what followed the earlier interval had been an encore after all.

It actually wasn’t such a bad show really but it was the sort of thing you needed to sit down to watch and appreciate. If they’d put the same thing on somewhere like the Symphony Hall I’m sure it would’ve been much better and would’ve done something to re-emphasise the duo’s move away from the mainstream they accidentally found back in 1998. As it was, there was some grumbling as we filed for the exits.

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.