Live Music + Gig Reviews

Air @ Royal Festival Hall, London

3 August 2004

“I am a robot and my master told me how to count to four,” declares that old japester Nicholas Godin, with what can only be described as affable Parisian humour. The tall gent, one half of Air, then counts in the drummer for one of their most popular hits, Kelly Watch The Stars.

How delightfully French. Here we have two adult men, one a brown-haired little pixie encased in a pyramid of keyboards, the other a blond bushy-haired guitarist with a winning smile. They are highly respected for their blissed-out saccharine electronica and must have made a fortune pimping their music for countless TV adverts. Yet here they are making silly little jokes that the whole audience at the Royal Festival Hall titter at, because they are just so endearingly French.

The Frenchness of course transcends into their ethereal music. When it’s not floaty French lyrics (Sexy Boy, Le Soleil Est Pres De Moi), it’s cookie English lyrics in a Gallic accent (People in the City, Cherry Blossom Girl) and avant garde instrumentals (La Femme d’Argent).

Tonight Nicholas and his fellow robot JB Dunckel are paying tribute to Brian Wilson in the Heroes And Villains concert series, which includes Spiritualized, Badly Drawn Boy and the big man himself.

So without anything in particular to promote, the duo unsurprisingly play a very similar set to one they played at the Brixton Academy in March this year. They kick off with Venus, then follow with that TV advert whistling song, Alpha Beta Gaga, and go on to play a 16-track set that takes in all four of their albums. Curiously they don’t play their current single Surfing On A Rocket.

There is definitely an air of “getting on with it”, of going through the motions with songs they must have played thousands of times, and it shows. But it is always hard with instrumental electronica to do anything amazingly different with each song, and it’s even harder to get the crowd going when they’re all sitting down, heads bobbing in the blue light like those naff nodding dogs.

Sonically, Air are not at their best this evening. People In The City starts off with Nicholas’s mic too soft, and when it is turned up, he sounds not unlike Britney Spears with his electronically-altered voice. The song finishes in a flurry of Bossa Nova bleeps, a variation on the album version, but even that doesn’t gee artists or audience up. I found myself the only one bopping in my chair.

After Kelly Watch the Stars the duo exit the stage. And even though it’s clear the band are coming back because we have an hour to go, huge chunks of the audience get up and shuffle out the doors. I know it’s a Tuesday night but even so, if you’ve paid 25 per ticket you want to get your money’s worth.

As expected the band return to play Biological and Sexy Boy… and then leave again. This then prompts more people to start putting on their coats, but after a minute the band are back to play a long entrancing version of La Femme D’Argent. Before that though Nicholas says: “I can’t believe some people left. We do a starter, a main course and a dessert.” Everyone of course cheered. Oh how charmingly French they are.

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More on Air
Air – Le Voyage Dans La Lune
Air @ Somerset House, London
Air – Love 2
Air @ Forum, London
Summer Sundae Weekender 2004, Day 2 @ De Montfort Hall, Leicester