Discover Air Traffic Controller

WERS Presents Discover Air Traffic Controller: Exclusive 1st Listen Concert on June 7th at Emerson College. On June 7th, Air Traffic Controller came to Emerson College to perform their new album NORDO in a special intimate show for WERS listeners before it hit the store shelves! 

Air Traffic Controller has set up and is going through mic-check while WERS ticket winners are lining up outside the doors at Emerson College. Dave Munro, the lead vocalist and guitarist, says it’s the best live set-up they’ve ever played on.

They test levels playing “Hurry Hurry”, their first single off of the band’s soon to be released sophomore album, Nordo. The soulful shouts of “Whoa” strongly echo in the intimate and candle-lit room. Multi-instrumentalist Steve Scott tests out the electric piano playing sounds like an air pressurizer and an alarm clock beeping, normally never heard mixed into a song – especially live.

Awaiting Nordo

The band is backstage while the audience settles in to their individual tables. Most are newfound fans of Air Traffic Controller after becoming hooked by “Hurry, Hurry” in rotation at WERS.

“I hadn’t heard of them before, but after I won tickets I looked them up on YouTube,” said Juliet, an avid WERS listener. “They have some great videos of the band playing in bathrooms and other small areas with great acoustics.”

Jeff Forum listens to WERS twice a day, once heading to work and again heading home.

And Tatianya Dunham, she won tickets while spontaneously calling in one day after work. “I have gone to a bunch of WERS events before, and so I knew this one would be great.” Dunham won tickets to the Newport Folk Festival two summers ago.

Settling In

Ready to get the night started, WERS music director, Kendall Stewart, shouts, “Who here likes Air Traffic Controller? The band is getting ready. They’re really excited, I can tell”

Stewart introduces the trailer for Nordo alongside WERS’ assistant program director Ben Holt. The trailer is projected on to a big screen. Upon hearing cheers at the end of the trailer, the band makes their entrance from the back of the venue and take the stage.

A First Listen

With not a second to spare, the band starts off with the single on everyone’s minds, “Hurry, Hurry”. As the single that got everyone out to this exclusive first listen concert, the audience is eager to clap and sing along to the chorus – setting the night off.

“This is such a great experience, to be playing the album in its entirety in such an intimate setting,” lead singer Dave Munro says as he thanks everyone for coming out. It’s the first time the band has ever performed this album beginning to end outside of the studio. “We’re so happy to be here with WERS, and not just because they play our music!” Munro recounts his long history with WERS as a Boston native.

The next song, “Pick Me Up”, starts off with a country twang, thanks to a lively upbeat and a great violin part played by Alison Shipton, a student at Boston University.

The violin and bass intertwine effortlessly on the next track as a solid synchronized backing to Munro’s melody. Richie Munro plays the drums right behind his little brother.

Munro takes a break before the next track to mention a recent accolade. “I am glad to say that song is the free mp3 download of the week on the Boston Phoenix. It’s cool, it gave me something to tweet about,” Munro jokes.

“As you can see we had a forty piece orchestra playing with us during the recording of the album. Tonight you have Steve and Ally,” he says.

“Thinking of You,” the hidden track, begins with Dave’s vocals alone with his guitar, a gentle reminder of how this all started. Steve comes in lightly with the trumpet, and then the whole band sets in. It’s quite the surprising contrast and ends with you wanting more (as good hidden tracks should).

Stories in Song

As the set progresses, both the audience and the band loosen up. Offering up anecdotal tales of each song’s origin, Dave’s personality starts to really pop out.

In “Anyway”, bassist and Berkeley student Casey Sullivan offers up some impressive backing vocals and even some belts. After the show, she told us that she first heard that song when she was fourteen years old and Dave, who wrote the song, performed it. “That song was actually one of the reasons I joined the band.” Seven years later, it’s a finely tuned duet.

Dave starts the song “Different” by asking everyone to imagine they’re on a beach in California, “or Cape Cod, either one.” Casey joins Steve on the other side of the stage to play Patty cakes, creating a unique clapping beat. “It was our producer’s idea to add clapping to the track. You can really hear it on the album.” But Alison’s violin is the featured sound on this track, adding a beautiful depth of sound and emotion.

When they begin “Bad Axe (Michigan)”, you can tell every member has a tight connection to the song. “This is a break up song, but this time it’s about a band.” He explains to the crowd that Bad Axe was a band in Michigan who played great music (“and threw awesome parties”).

Each chorus ends with every member singing “one more song, one more song,” a sentiment they surely felt towards this inspiring band, and one they hope their fans feel about ATC itself. It even gets a bit crazy for such an intimate gathering as Munro climbs the bass drum and takes a leap off stage, almost crashing into the table in front.

An Audience of Unknown Faces

“It’s a blessing,” Alison says of getting the chance to play their entire album to a room full of (mostly) new fans. “I could see people nodding as we started playing songs they had never heard before,” added Casey. “I could tell they were really engaged.”

For most of the band, it was the first time they were playing to an entire crowd of unfamiliar faces, but it was just as much exciting as it was intimidating.

“A lot of people were hearing us for the first time, other than when our single plays on WERS,” said Alison. “And our second album is so different than our first, so they have a perspective on us that will probably change when they listen to our older music.”

After the show, the band spent lots of time meeting new fans, signing their new albums and taking photos. “A couple people came up and were amazed by how many instruments we played, especially Steve.” The new fans also urged them to start playing festivals and getting their music into the ears of even more prospective listeners.

Next week, they’ll be playing in-store performances and signing their album at various Newbury Comics across Massachusetts as well as New England.

A small and intimate concert is a great way to discover new music, and for the audience members hearing Air Traffic Controller for the first time tonight, there was a feeling in the room that it definitely won’t be the last.

By Kathryn Barnes

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