June 17, 2011
ACL Moody Theater
Austin, TX USA
Review by Abigail Randolph
Photos by Christopher Durst
Explosions In The Sky
"Hey," said the voice on the other end of the phone, "will you review Explosions In The Sky show for me? They're from Austin and I think they're going to be big."
There's nothing like dangling the proverbial carrot on the stick to pique one's interest. To make it more entertaining, I figured my 13-year old son would enjoy the experience as well. Considering his first rock show was Ghostland Observatory, might as well mold him into an 'Austin Buzz Band' specialist to prepare him for high school days ahead.
First off, I have to admit I'm a complete neophyte when it comes to this four-piece rock outfit. Having lived in Austin as long as I have, for some reason, this band just never landed on my radar, and they've been around for ten years. But sometimes the best things in life are those wonderful surprises that sneak up on you, so I had my fingers crossed heading out to the Moody Theater with 'tweener' in tow.
We arrived in plenty of time to see a conveniently located parking garage directly across the street from the new ACL Live venue. Unfortunately the facility, like most other parking options in downtown Austin, takes cash only. Considering I've been brought up in a plastic only world, cash is the one commodity I'm usually in short supply of. By the time I had gotten our financial affairs in order, the 'lot full' sign was glowing in all its resplendent in neon glory. Explosions In The Sky indeed!
As my companion and I entered the three story, state-of-the-art facility (home to the long running television show Austin City Limits), we managed to catch the last song of the opening act, Ola Podrida. If this group's music was any indication of what the main act had in store for the audience, this was going to be a very interesting night. When the lights went up, I was curious to see what type of crowd the headliners had attracted. From my vantage point, there appeared to be unusually high number of mid-30s men dressed in short-sleeved, poly blend plaid shirts accessorized by expensive spectacles. Hmm! As I looked down at my son, staring doe-eyed at his surroundings, I quietly crossed my fingers hoping the music about to emanate from the stage would measure up to the hype.
Explosions In The Sky have been dubbed a 'post rock' band. I don't know what clown came up with that innocuous term, but it certainly didn't apply here. If anything, the quarter featuring guitarists Munaf Rayani, Mark Smith and Michael James (who also plays bass when called upon), backed by the steady drumbeat of Chris Hrasky, would fit in quite nicely with any of the '70s progressive rock bands. The symphony of sound intricately woven together by the group was carefully crafted and played with extraordinary precision.
The first tune was a 10-minute piece, "The Only Moment We Were Alone." It was then followed by "Last Known Surrounding" from the group's recently released album, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. By the time the smoke had cleared from the second selection, almost 25 minutes had elapsed from the clock. I was dutifully impressed because if anything, what I was bearing witness too was nothing remotely akin to a jam band, ala Phish or Widespread Panic (who incidentally would be in the same building for two nights less than a week later). There was no margin for error written into these compositions. Even a neophyte like yours truly understood that the slightest nuance from any of these musicians would totally change the heart and soul of the song.
There's something to be said about a leaderless group that prefers to let their actions speak for them rather than words. In fact, there was very little dialogue with the audience outside of Rayani's opening, "Tonight we play with all of our hearts and you have to listen with all of yours!" The microphone, often the most essential piece of equipment on stage, was merely a diversionary prop called upon only when absolutely necessary. Yes, this band preferred to let their extended play music do all the talking for them, and did it ever.
One of the interesting things about the music Explosions In The Sky creates is the effect it has on those experiencing the wonderful wave of sound the guitars so delicately manipulate. There were times throughout the evening where I was totally transfixed by the bombardment of sound that surrounded me. When the band played what seemed a never ending "With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Sleep," I saw myself wandering taking this fanciful journey to the center of my mind. Maybe that's what it was all about.
It's always a good idea when encountering a band for the first time, to go over to the soundboard before the show and jot down the evening's set list. For this band in particular, the list of tunes to be performed had some of the most compelling titles I've ever seen. Besides the already aforementioned works, other offerings included "Greet Death", "First Breath After Coma", "Catastrophe and the Cure" along with "The Birth and the Death of a Day", actually made me try to find a connection between the song titles and the music as they were performed. Not sure if I ever found the connection, but it certainly was interesting to try. During "Your Hand in Mine", I envisioned myself as a passenger in a Jaguar convertible, speeding through the English countryside next to the man I love. I close my eyes and inhale the scent of fresh mown grass and lavender. Unfortunately the vision was interrupted with the aroma of another type of grass wafting through the air. Luckily, I was with the young man I love standing off to my side.
When your auditory senses are bombarded with intricate spectral noises in the world Explosions In The Sky dwell in, it's easy to see why their cinematic music has been placed in so many television shows, commercials and motion pictures. I was dutifully impressed that the concert lasted almost two and a half hours and went by so smoothly.
As I left the theater thoroughly entertained, I looked down at the escort holding my hand for his esteemed opinion. He thought for a moment and said, "Well, there was quite a bit of distortion, but the dark melody lines and ominous guitar tones were kind of cool. I especially liked the way they all came together at the end of songs and, you know, exploded." I love a man who can talk about the subtleties of distortion with confidence!