Laser rock shows, it would seem, receded into oblivion around the same time the 8-track — or the vinyl record, at least — shuffled off this mortal coil. But any theater owner who went ahead and placed that stoner-magnet equipment into storage might be well served to dust it off, given the left-field success of the French duo Air (Nicolas Godin and Jean Benoit Dunckel), whose electro-pop is custom-made for horizontal consumption.
In their concert return to Gotham, the group — expanded to a quintet for this tour — said yes to every possible excess, inflating bombastic melodies right up to (and sometimes past) the breaking point, and accompanying the tunes with a stadium-scale searchlight display.
But Air’s apparent attempts to conjure up ghosts of Pink Floyd past fell decidedly short, largely because there’s nothing remotely mystical about the insubstantial tales crafted by Godin and Dunckel. While often categorized as postmodern prog-rockers, the pair would be better described as mythologized bubblegum merchants.
The perf started out promisingly enough, with a purposefully static-drenched version of the tongue-in-cheek theme tune “Electronic Performers,” which boasted just about every effect in the sequencer handbook. Still, there was a palpable hollowness, in both Godin’s vocal delivery and the wariness with which the hired hands approached the tunes. A similar blankness permeated the ostensibly Beatles-derived “Radio #1” and “Remember” (on which Peter Frampton-styled vocoder use got old mighty fast). Echoing the pacing of a classic arena-rock set, Air even plopped a sweet sing-along ballad into the middle of the 75-minute set: “Playground Love,” while undeniably lightweight, proved as hard to resist as a tuft of cotton candy.
Interestingly, the band’s instrumentals are far more textured. Aimed squarely at the head, rather than the feet, they almost invariably hit their target, as borne out by the gentle-but-insistent drone of “Talisman,” on which three distinct keyboard patterns made separate impressions on the synapses. Likewise, “J’ai Dormis Sous L’Eau” provided a subtle-but-palpable wind beneath the audience’s wings.
Those moments of uplift, however, were exhausted long before set’s end, leaving Air treading water on versions of “Sex Born Poison” and “Don’t Be Light,” both of which sorely missed the vocal cameos by Buffalo Daughter and Beck, respectively, that carried them on record.
Air will play Los Angeles’ Mayan Theater July 11 and 12.