Air : London Royal Albert Hall

Air getting closer in spirit, appearance and sound to prog rock fossils like Tangerine Dream and Yes than any of their contemporaries...

Air are impressively detached from reality at the best of times. Now, having toured their successfully self-indulgent second album, ‘10,000 Hz Legend’, round North America this summer, they seem to be operating on a more distant plane altogether. This is understandable. Any group faced with the task of living with and regularly performing material from such an ambitious and densely progressive record would find their grip on normality weakening dramatically.

For these five effeminate chaps decked out in black, tonight’s show is an opportunity to fill this venue of epics with their suitably grand music and swirling lightshow. When a nervous Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel debuted this refreshingly pretentious set in London last spring, you could sense they were not in complete control, that these songs were bigger than anything they’d previously accomplished. That, and Godin’s decision to wear a Rick Wakeman-style cape, sadly absent here, made for a compelling spectacle.

They’ll deny it forever, but it’s abundantly evident Air are closer in spirit, appearance and sound to prog rock fossils like Tangerine Dream and Yes than any of their contemporaries. While this is no slight on their serene tunes – the opening churn of ‘Electronic Performers’, ‘How Does It Make You Feel’ and ‘Lucky And Unhappy’ blend crisp digital beats, synthesised voice and cruising guitars – it does not present much in the way of visual stimulation. There are no stars in Air, Godin and Dunckel admit they have nothing to say.

Only Jason Falkner, the American guitarist and backing vocalist, takes advantage by throwing rock poses and singing lead during ‘Playground Love’.

As Air have grown into ‘10,000 Hz Legend’ so a degree of complacency has crept in. Three-quarters of that emotionally stark and hit-free record is ploughed through, punctuated by lighter offerings from ‘Moon Safari’ and a couple from ‘The Virgin Suicides’. Sensing the importance of this occasion, Air afford us two encores, narcotic acoustic versions of ‘Kelly Watch The Stars’ and ‘Sexy Boy’, unrecognisable at first.

They are feeling very romantic tonight, Godin reveals. He doesn’t go so far as to ask how it was for us, but as they saunter smugly offstage, it’s clear Air are extremely pleased with themselves.

Piers Martin