Mikel Jollett, the lead singer-guitarist-keyboardist for the L.A.-based orchestral rock band The Airborne Toxic Event, is accustomed to his arty quintet receiving comparisons to ambitious techno-pop purveyors like Arcade Fire and Coldplay. Ever since their self-titled 2008 debut, Airborne Toxic has heavily incorporated synthesizers, ambient touches, string quartets, and full orchestras into their recordings and live shows. They’ve never sacrificed strong melodic hooks and Jollett’s imagistic lyrics for preening displays of prog rock virtuosity, though. For Jollett, it’s less about mathematically elaborate chord progressions and more about drawing the audience in with the total showmanship of an energetic live show. In the latter department, he looks less to Coldplay’s hyper-enthusiastic Chris Martin than two glam rock icons who consistently amazed him with their musical malleability and pure theatricality –– David Bowie and Freddie Mercury.

“The goal, if you can reach it, is always to lose yourself [onstage] in the music like Bowie and Mercury did,” said Jollett.

In the spirit of that legendary pair’s constant, restless search for sonic reinvention, Airborne Toxic has been known to record two or three different versions of an original composition and then perform the various interpretations live as venues and available musicians permit. Jollett loves the contrasting possibilities of lush vs. stripped-down in a single tune, but don’t look for the band to go all experimental on the Fort Worth Music Festival’s ass. Jollett is very careful to suit an Airborne Toxic performance to the audience and show format at hand.


“If we’re playing for people who know us and our songs, then we can maybe bring out the atonal stuff. I can cry a little during the serious songs,” joked Jollett. “But at festivals, a lot of people are hearing our music for the first time. That’s one of the reasons we love festival shows. If we feel like we did a good job, we leave the stage so pumped afterward. It’s like, ‘Yes!’”

The Airborne Toxic Event

Fort Worth Music Festival w/Lucinda Williams, Jimmy Eat World, Billy F. Gibbons, The Airborne Toxic Event, Jackopierce, Justin Townes Earle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Ray Wylie Hubbard, Aaron Behrens & The Midnight Stroll, Air Review, Quaker City Night Hawks, Oil Boom, Quiet Company, Ice Eater, Uncle Lucius, Foxtrot Uniform, The Fox and the Bird, Team, Ronnie Fauss, Patriot. Fri-Sat. $32-90. Panther Island Pavilion, 395 Purcey St, FW.