Air brings much-needed sophistication

VILNIUS — Lithuania is not the concert destination it could be.

While Lithuanian concert promoters do a very good job of getting Europe’s top-notch electronic artists like DJ Tiesto, Sasha and Digweed, Roni Size and James Talk, they struggle with bringing top rock acts.

So far 2009 saw arrivals in the Land of Rain by Limp Bizkit, who are about as hot now as five-day-old blynai. Others included Morcheeba’s former torch singer Skye and heartthrob James Blunt. A Depeche Mode gig was canceled. That was the long and short of it for multi-platinum Western artists until Air came to the Ūkio Bank Arena Theater Wednesday.

Air's Nicholas Godin performs "So Light Is Her Footfall" in Vilnius Wednesday. Photo by Nathan Greenhalgh.

Air's Nicholas Godin performs "So Light Is Her Footfall" in Vilnius Wednesday. Photo by Nathan Greenhalgh.

It was the Frenchies’ first concert in Vilnius, but it was as if they had played many times before. The crowd sang along word-for-word with several songs and clearly recognized most of the material, which ranged from their earliest singles to their latest adventure in sound Love 2.

Besides Air’s international popularity I think part of the reason the crowd was so into the show was because the French group’s atmospheric music matches the vibe of Vilnius. Just walk around town with your headphones on and you’ll see what I mean.

Air’s music is a strange mix of influences — it’s always been hard to define the trip-hop/rock/dream pop/whatever music they make. They’re not knob twiddlers — they play their instruments live. Analogously as most travel literature correctly points out, Vilnius is an odd mix of architecture, people and personality, too.

Jean-Benoît Dunckel plays keyboard and provides his chirpy voice for the song "Love." Photo by Nathan Greenhalgh.

Jean-Benoît Dunckel plays keyboard and provides his chirpy voice for the song "Love." Photo by Nathan Greenhalgh.

Air’s classicism and penchant for ‘as European as it gets’ symphonic flourishes match the feel of Vilnius’s Baroque and medieval Old Town. The group’s futurism and whacked-out synths fits in with the financial district’s flashing lights and steel and glass monstrosities. Their clashing mixture of the somber and quirky moods suits Vilnius’ various monuments — one for Frank Zappa, one for an egg, another for KGB victims, another for murdered Jews. Walking down Gedimino Avenue, one minute you see a bonnet-wearing babushka that looks like she just dismounted from a collective-farm tractor, and the next it’s a decked-out twenty-something that looks straight of a fashion mag.

Speaking of, the group’s chic appeal certainly matches the latter look, which most young Vilnius residents go for. That self-aware, sophisticate, stilted-casual was on full display at Wednesday’s concert. Many a conversation in this city debates whether Lithuania is behind the West in this or that respect, but no one could deny the concert crowd was dressed just as hip as their counterparts in Paris or Milan.

Air’s known for their instrumentals, and they provide a suitable soundtrack for the silent bus rides you usually get in Vilnius. In Chicago or Rome the buses are usually loud with chatter, but not here. A British colleague of mine once called Vilnius a “city of zombies.” I disagree, the people aren’t catatonic. If you watch them out of the corner of your eye, you’ll discern emotion in their facial expressions and body language. They’re just not talking at the moment. They will later.

Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, come back to Vilnius. Your style fits in here and gives some much-needed excitement to the local concert circuit.

In the meantime, the all-concrete converted supermarket that is the Ūkio Bank venue has two modernized versions of “Hamlet” and “Romeo and Juliet” done in Lithuanian and a modern dance spectacle called “Men and Women.” Check here for more details.


3 Responses for “Air brings much-needed sophistication”

  1. Moacir says:

    Looks like a great show. Nice to see Dunckel with a Moog Source.

  2. Serge says:

    Thanks for a great feature and excellent pics.

  3. pc repair says:

    Nice pictures. Lymp Biskit is a start for Lithuania. And it sounds like that country is moving up musically.

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