If you find yourself nursing a lifelong addiction to post rock like I have, then it is very likely Explosions in the Sky is your gateway drug too. By the time I discovered them, the Austin, TX quartet already dominated the instrumental rock scene for nearly a decade. And since their 1999 formation, Explosions has mesmerized a generation of fans with their emotive and powerful take on the genre they have arguably helped create. Now, after years of mainlining similarly evocative and instrumental bands, I was ready to face my addiction head on and witness the band that started it all for me. 🙂
Like any good road to recovery story, mine had a few roadblocks. Well, one, to be exact. A rather pleasant and surprising roadblock by the name of Thor & Friends. A trio of experimental, multi-instrumentalists spearheaded by Thor Harris of Swans fame. Him and his pals create some beautifully delicate songs with little more than percussive instruments. I’m talking xylophones, vibraphones, marimbas, and any other instrument that requires two tiny mallets to play.
For what sounds like a band you might find in a scrapped Portlandia skit, Thor and his buddies are no joke. Unlike Explosions’ powerhouse offerings, delicacy, detail, and repetition are the key players here. Each song typically consists around one central, hypnotic rhythm, gracefully adorned with a variety of soothing tones and melodies coming from the two other musicians. Together, all three of them frequently shuffle around their circle of arranged instruments to make these songs blossom into something special.
The one drawback to their gentle performance was how difficult it was to hear over the din of chatty fans in the crowd; whose conversations ranged from leg shaving regimens to how disgustingly greasy and overpriced the venue pizza was. If you ever check these guys out, Make sure it’s in a quiet place.
Thankfully, The chattiness faded away once Explosions in the Sky makes their modest approach to the stage. Guitarist Munaf Rayani humbly introduces the band to the eager crowd, and gives us little warning as to how monolithic the next 90 minutes of music would be.
It’s an amazing feeling to see a band you’ve loved for so long still surprise you, and they surprise me in many ways. The most obvious shock coming from just how LOUD these guys can get. For those not familiar with their brand of post rock, Explosions favors atmosphere and ambiance over face-melting riffs and momentum. Although they deliver on all of their signature qualities, they also deliver a fair share of heaviness too. Each crawling buildup and crescendo leads to feedback-drenched sheets of pedal effects far louder than anything they’ve put on record. Perhaps the addition of a third touring guitarist added the extra punch they needed to bring even more depth to their sonic peaks and valleys.
These powerful moments were made all the more impressive by the level of care and detail they brought to their presentation. A myriad of colorful lights, ranging from icy blues, passionate reds, and everything in between (like, the other four or so colors in the rainbow) flood the stage as immense clouds of fog billow out into the open sky of the venue.
This swirling aurora in front of me is as immersive and captivating as the music it accompanies — it’s the missing ingredient that made the emotional quality of their songs feel more real. Joy, sadness, anger, regret, love, loss, and many others are felt with stinging tangibility as the band weaved through a curated setlist of old, new, and all-time favorites. I even feel painful embarrassment, but less from the music and more from the greasy venue pizza I ate earlier making an audible appearance during one of the quieter moments of the set.*
Aside from that moderately humiliating moment, It was everything I was hoping to experience and more. It was an experience that solidified not just my love for this band, but my love for the genre as a whole. And as far as addictions go, I could do a lot worse.
*I don’t think anybody heard, luckily. They were either too transfixed on the band, or too polite to react.
Explosions In The Sky Live Review 2017 by James Connolly.
Explosions In The Sky Live Concert Photos by Valerie Niager.
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