When once Air might have been known as the faceless architects of subdued, gliding and affecting early 2000s soundracks, last night at the Sydney Opera House, as part of their VIVID Live performance, they proved to be as confident, glorious, and fully realised as any classic Dad-rock psych band. Of course Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Thomas Godin have always embraced a "classic" and wryly pastiche, retro sound - the Parisian duo are experts at creating "moods" rather than aiming to simply entertain or overwhelm. But by the end of the show, having moved through a number of spectacular motions, the pair had managed to walk the line between dark cinematic restraint and gleeful celebration more expertly than any of their electronic peers. With UFO-like tractor lights beaming across rows of people and swerving back into the stage, they started the evening with "Venus", the opening track from the 2003 album Walkie Talkie, and from there charmed the audience - ranging mostly from late 20s to 50s - as they moved from their signature downtempo chill to more stand-out electronic groovers - or at least, the closest Air gets to radio pop. The show was well paced as they delivered hits from their Twentyears compilation balanced with "in the moment" deviations. At times it was if they were consciously working against preconceptions that they were merely a background act or a film soundtrack band rather than entertaining live performers in their own right. And when wholesome looking, Abercrombie wearing 40-year-olds bust out of their seats in the front row to go and dance in the galleys, you know that they can "put on a show".
But there was still room for pomp and spectacle, and one of the most satisfying moments occurs when they hit that sweet spot of chuggy bass and neapolitan synths on the vocoder heavy "Kelly Watch the Stars". Other favourites like "Bedroom Lover" favoured the big Opera House sound as the tuneful electronic piano made way for a more Kraftwerk style "jam".
Air feels assured and engaged in 2017, able to stand apart from their robotic dance contemporaries. At one stage Godin even breaks out a banjo during "Alpha Beta Gaga" and the show climaxes (fittingly) at the encore with "Sexy Boy" and the subsequent relief of "La Femme d'Argent" as they left centre stage.
Image provided by the Sydney Opera House.