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AIR celebrate ‘twentyears’ at The Masonic

AIRPhotos by Steve Carlson // Written by Brett Ruffenach //

AIR with Lo Moon //
The Masonic – San Francisco
June 23rd, 2017 //

What better venue could there be for a band like AIR than The Masonic?

Over the past 20 years, the French downtempo/space-rock project formed by Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel has produced several critically acclaimed albums, including their groundbreaking soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides”.

Recently, they released a compilation of their best work, simply titled twentyears, to celebrate the project entering its second decade. For those of us lucky to catch their transcendent set at Outside Lands (read our festival review here) last year, it was a no-brainer to catch the French duo on their last U.S tour before an indefinite hiatus, especially in a space as fitting for AIR as The Masonic.

Opening for AIR were Lo Moon, the Los Angeles trio currently riding a much-deserved wave of hype from its debut track “Loveless” that came out last February.

Combining some soaring, melodic indie rock with subtle ambient elements, Lo Moon set the tone for the evening. As a four-piece, their touring drummer Sterlin Laws certainly packed a punch at the right moments and offered a great opening act. I’ll have to keep an eye out for their debut album later this year.

AIR

After a short intermission, AIR took the stage, opening with their classic track “Venus” off 2004’s Talkie Walkie. The duo tours as a quartet consisting of Godin (guitar, vocoder, bass, banjo), Duncke (keyboards, including six different synthesizers I believe), a drummer and pianist (who also manned at least half a dozen synthesizers).

AIR’s live performances focus on capturing the crisp, detailed production style that the duo has honed over two decades. It’s a vibrant, textured sound. Centered around acoustic guitar, synthesizers and the breathy timbre of the duo’s immaculate harmonized vocals, the use of live drums helped round out the contrast between both the artificial and acoustic sounds in songs like “Cherry Blossom Girl”.

With the release of twentyears, AIR’s headlining set gave them the time and space to play more spacious, ambient productions. The ethereal rhythm of songs such as “Playground Love” and “Alone in Kyoto” showed their true mastery as a group: delicate, balanced and controlled.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t rock out when they want to. Early in the set (perhaps too early), they put on a heart-racing rendition of “Don’t Be Light”. Later the banjo was finally brought out, leading into a soaring version of “Alpha Beta Gaga”.

Closing with their classic “La Femme d’argent” that was led by a razor-sharp baseline guiding them into a massive, cacophonous finale, the members of AIR gathered together at the center of the stage and took a bow. In all white, with their charming French smiles spread ear to ear, they blew the crowd kisses and left the stage for what may be the last time in the Bay Area.

Setlist:
Venus
Don’t Be Light
Cherry Blossom Girl
J’ai dormi sous l’eau
Remember
Playground Love
People in the City
Radian
Alpha Beta Gaga
Run
Talisman
How Does It Make You Feel?
Kelly Watch the Stars

Encore:
Alone in Kyoto
Sexy Boy
La Femme d’Argent

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