By Ryan Marr
Despite a plethora of automotive obstacles, four Mary Washington freshmen and I still managed to catch cinematic-rock troubadours Explosions in the Sky April 11 in Norfolk, Virginia for a concert experience unlike any other.
Hailing from Austin, Texas, this four-piece, self proclaimed “rock” band are best known for their original score of the major motion picture, Friday Night Lights, a film that neatly paired the group’s flair for dynamics with the emotional tensions of Texas high school football.
Explosions in the Sky are easily the best live act to come out of Texas, and arguably, America. A bold statement, one I am sure those who are unfamiliar with their live show will be quick to refute with the names of any number of band’s- bands that might put the same energy and passion into an entire tour that Explosions in the Sky pack into an hour and a half set every night.
This past Friday was no exception.
I arrived in time to grab an open spot on the upper balcony just before the house lights went down to thunderous applause and the opening guitar tones of “First Breath after Coma.” The song builds as the title suggests, as a repetitive note, designed to emulate the beeps of a hospital heart monitor, gives way to a pulsing bass line imitating a human heartbeat. The song’s “pulse” then becomes increasingly lost amidst billowing melodies that escalate to a furious climax of screaming guitars.
To a stress-ridden college student, the experience was sheer joy. A dead man walking lately, I felt myself slip out of a school-induced coma of term papers and textbooks as wailing guitar harmonies bounced off the dingy, black walls of the club, shooting shivers up and down my wiry spine.
The band’s songs typically follow a standard post-rock formula perfected by bands like Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Interlocking melodies are played softly at first, and then slowly begin to build and intertwine as the music crescendos; Explosions in the Sky uniquely take off, however, as the guitar feedback climbs, the melodies fuse together, and the sound amplifies in an onslaught of distortion that soars to the rafters.
During one such maelstrom in “Catastrophe and the Cure,” one member even dropped his guitar in favor of two drumsticks which he proceeded to slam into a nearby snare drum with the energy of a caged animal.
Fellow freshman Charlie Devine might have articulated it best when, after the song ended, he turned to me and said, “That was fricken awesome!”
Other than a few brief remarks before and after the set, the members entirely refrained from speaking during the show. Yet I felt the lack of banter between songs was a smart move by the band- it gave the entire set a unique feel as the songs merged to become one long composition greater than just the sum of their individual parts.
One particularly effective transition found guitarist Munaf Rayani frenetically dragging his guitar all over the floor of the stage, looping the sounds his amp picked up through a delay effect that faded into the next song.
With only these brief interruptions in between the songs, the band relied heavily on sound dynamics and lighting to hold the attention of their audience throughout the set.
Although not quite a Daft Punk caliber visual orgy, Explosions in the Sky’s light show nicely accented the music without distracting from it. Opting for dim reds and blues during the more mellow sections, the band hammered into their trademark climaxes with dazzling white lights flashing in time with the bass drum.
The band saved their knockout punch for the end, however, syncing up the blinding crowd lights to the last three pounding chords of “Memorial.”
Devine turned 19 last Friday and couldn’t have pictured a better ending to his birthday. After the show ended, he remarked that Explosions in the Sky “blew just about every other band I’ve seen out of the water. You could tell they played their hearts out.”
So much so, in fact, that the band does not play encores, ever. A little more than a year ago, at my first Explosions in the Sky show, Rayani explained to a disappointed crowd that the band members were on the verge of collapsing after putting everything they had into the performance.
Even as merely an audience member, the set is exhausting. I’m not even sure I could have handled the sensory overload of another encore. For me, a great live show is a catharsis, a purging of daily life and all the inane activities that go with it from my consciousness- at least for a few hours. That’s the most I could ask for from any rock band— with Explosions in the Sky, I’ve come to expect it.
By Ryan Marr