Theatre Royal, London, UK


This isn't a gig. This isn't a rave. This is a Close Encounter Of The Third Kind. Or that's what Air seem to think. Swathed in multi-coloured dry ice, the chilled-out Frenchmen look more like NASA scientists than easy listening explorers, dressed from head to toe in 'spaceman white' and staring intently at their controls.

The ambient mothership thing's been done before, but where The Orb were sampledelic charlatans on a spliff odyssey, Air are 'real' musicians, with 'proper' instruments. Nicholas (the shaggy-haired, talkative one) and J-B (the hyperactive one) are joined by a bass player, a drummer and two keyboard wizards. One looks like Neil from The Young Ones . Still, for the first few tracks, Air sound as sublime as ever.

'Remember' is a druggy ambient symphony. Even better is 'La Solei Est Pres De Moi'. ("I like it when we play this song," croaks Nicholas through his alien vocoder. "It makes me feel like Barry White.") The audience in the Theatre Royal, one of the 'unusual' venues selected for this tour, sway in their seats and nod their heads. They are all undoubtedly thinking the same thing: "I wish I could roll a fat one."

The Frenchmen could probably get away with note-perfect renditions of their album tracks, but they're far too clever - or self indulgent - for that. A 'remix' of 'Kelly Watch The Stars' starts like pumping hi-NRG and ends up with J-B punching the air and Nicholas thrashing on a guitar. An electro injected 'Sexy Boy' mutates first into Garry Numan and then into The Beatles 'Tomorrow Never Knows'. But in between ther's a horrible vision of what Air might become.

The new song is dreadful, growling progrock mess. It's as if the ambient astronauts have been replaced by perennial space rockers Hawkwind. After that it's down to Beth Hirsch, the US vocalist on 'Moon Safari', to rein things in for The Carpenters - style balladry of 'You Make It Easy' and 'All I Need'. Sadly the illusion has been shattered.

The aging record company types and people wearing black polo-necks are treated to encores, but it's not hard to see Air in a whole new light: dreadful 70s throwbacks, a kind of Emerson Lake & Plamer for the chemical generation. Only with their last song do Air regain their space-age majesty. 'New Star In The Sky' has Nicholas and J-B dueting on vocoders, while the strings soar a mile high before breaking down into lunar twitterings that don't fade untill long after Air have left the building.

Hot Air
These men often talk bollocks...

Angels Exist
"I believe in angels. I've seen one," says J-B

And So Do Ghosts
"When [60's synth pioneer] Jean-Jacques Perry came to my flat, he saw two cats - ghost cats," says Nicholas. "When we were making music they were winding round our legs."

The Album Was Made In A Forest
"When we had no ideas we would walk in the forest and meet dear and other animals," says Nicholas. "It had a huge effect on our music."

J-B Wants To Star A Cult
"I will create a sort of religion and the girls will give me their money and they will be obliged to offer their bodies. And we'll have success, money, girls, and I will be very happy"

Japan Won The War
"For the first ten years of my life I thought Versailles was a Japanese country," says Nicholas, "because there are more Japanese people than us. I thought the Japanese had won the Second World War."

Their Starship is Made Of Wood
"It's like the sci-fi of Jules Verne," says J-B. "he has starships, but they are made of wood. Yes our music is Captain Nemo's Starship."

They Wanted To Make A Video On The Moon
"Virgin considered the budget and it was too expensive," says Nicholas.

They Hate Their Album
"When I listen to the album I turn white and cry," says Nicholas.

Madness Is Round The Corner
"We'll probably go crazy soon and make the most frightening and noisy techno record there's ever been," says Nicholas.

Rob Fearn