LOS ANGELES -- It was a chilly night in this Southern California city.
But on the stage at the John Anson Ford Theater, Nicolas Godin and Jean Benoit Dunckel were just warming up.
Despite the cooler-than-average temperature, the French electronica duo that calls itself Air managed to generate some heat Thursday night in this outdoor theater via a perfect mix of synthesized pop and enthusiasm from the stage.
"Let's make some noise," Dunckel shouted at one point during the show, signaling the band to launch into "Kelly, Watch the Stars" (RealAudio excerpt).
The capacity crowd added to the rising temperature at the theater by offering the band a welcome reception on a night that might have normally kept most Southern Californians indoors or in a hot tub. It was a welcome sight for an outdoor venue -- a late '80s favorite for daytime rock-shows -- that has had trouble booking shows in recent months.
On this night, Air seemed to make up for all those lost hours.
Playing to an attentive audience, Air key-players Godin and Dunckel and four backup musicians took their places behind racks of synthesizers and sequencers. There to promote their debut album, Moon Safari, on their first American concert-tour, Godin and Dunckel seemed in a playful mood.
Two panels of fuchsia fabric, printed with op-art starry eyes, hung above the stage. Air's music -- a mix of '70s art-rock, '80s dance-rock and '90s ambient grooves -- enveloped and entranced the crowd. From their current single, "Kelly, Watch the Stars," to their first big hit, "Sexy Boy" (RealAudio excerpt), Air helped fans forget the unusually cold night.
But it wasn't easy.
At one point, during the song "Le Voyage De Penelope," Godin stood at his keyboards and hollered at a roadie that his monitor was not working. The song swelled gracefully as Godin, golden-red lights rimming his feathered hair, gestured frantically at a blue-clad fellow who crouched to reconnect the wires.
The crowd roared its appreciation for Air's efforts but remained seated. Still, the band kept coming at its fans and the curious with its electronic-pop as waves of synthesized sound filled the night.
Finally, a girl in a red alpine-sweater stood up, followed by a couple and then another pair across the way. The beat picked up to a rock jam and those now standing began dancing in place.
This only further inspired Air, who poured on the synthesized noise.
At center stage stood a mic with a vocoder vocal-filter that Air used between songs. They would change the settings so it would render a voice chipmunk-squeaky one time, distorted and echoing the next.
"This song is about lo-o-o-ove," Godin shouted through the effects.
The bass response on the vocoder was keyed up so he sounded like soul-singer Isaac Hayes, and he drew the words out with a grin.
Godin and Dunckel -- whose "Sexy Boy" single was an international hit earlier this year -- were accompanied on this tour by Justin Meldel-Johnsen on bass and Brian Reitzell on drums, as well as Roger Manning and Brian Kehew on additional synthesizers. All were dressed in white button-down shirts and white pants.
Only Manning, formerly of the San Francisco pop-rock band Jellyfish and currently playing keyboards with rock collagist Beck, disturbed the pattern, wearing a dark jacket for warmth.
"I'm in love with their new record," said Teresa James, 22, of Los Angeles. "I would've sat in the rain to see them," she added as she rubbed her hands together for warmth.
Openers April March -- a band fronted by singer and onetime "Ren And Stimpy" animator Elinor Blake and her collaborator, Bertrand Burgalat -- played a suave brand of French pop. Although their Ideal Records release won't be in stores until February, a new April March song appears on the soundtrack to "Orgazmo," the upcoming flick from Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of Comedy Central's popular animated television-series "South Park."
But this night was all Air's.
To cap off a long set, they played an extended encore.
It started slow, with just Dunckel emerging to play a piano solo, but built into something much more intricate and over-the-top. Machine-generated fog drifted down over him as Godin came out and string samples swelled.
Then the full band emerged, joined on "All I Need" and "You Make It Easy" by American vocalist Beth Hirsch, who sings on Air's album.
"Our lyrics are not our strong point," Godin is quoted as saying on the band's official website. "If we had something to say, we'd write a book." Considering the fluffy platitudes of "Sexy Boy" and "Kelly, Watch the Stars," Godin is not far off in his appraisal.
But Air have a stylish sound and attitude that still seems to carry them from here to there and back again.
On this night, they were all the warmth their L.A. fans needed.