We can be sure of one thing now; Explosions In The Sky are so certifiably post-rock that their equipment can’t help but set itself on fire. FACT. Impressive, no? Having picked their way carefully, tactfully through a shimmering web of scarcity and delay, gig finale ‘The Only Moment We Were Alone’ is gathering momentum, angling for the running leap toward its zenith, when smoke begins to bellow dramatically, suddenly and quite defiantly from the back of a Marshall stack. Literal pyrotechnics are not usually a feature of an Explosions show, literal pyrotechnics could be considered a frivolity; this is serious, sombre, solemn sonic art. If they were a book they would surely never grant licence to a film adaptation. Imagine your own explosions, figuratively, okay?!
So with a helpless look of defeat and an apologetic shrug they’re almost gone, prematurely, one climax short of ceremoniously lighting apocalypse’s wick. An enterprising sound-technician soon has a replacement amp hooked up however and the finale is allowed to play out to its inwardly-collapsing close. There is a noticeable collective sigh of relief, not to mention affirmative applause, but that an unscheduled event provided the only real teetering, unknowing excitement of the night – highlighting the relative absence of drama elsewhere – did in retrospect become a cause for concern.
You could never accuse them of giving a poor performance, the richness of their playing is what defines them, but its very studiousness belies the crushing pounds-per-square-inch enormity of their creations. They are craftsmen, yes, the detail of their art is plain for all to hear, each bass line resonates deeply, each twinkling guitar plots its twisted course immaculately, but they’re at work and to a point that’s the beginning and end of it. There is little effort to extend the experience through emotive realms hitherto unachievable without a dark room and a mass of people. Where others in the genre have reinforced the foundations – Sigur Ros with vast animated artistry as beautiful as the sounds they create, or Mogwai with the vein-popping bluntness of their demeanour – Explosions In The Sky merely play out their works under coloured bulbs.
This impression is not exclusive, there are some exceptions. ‘The Moon Is Down’ sees guitarist Mark Smith end a pedal tinkering spree using (we think) gaffer tape (we’re squinting thanks to the wine we’ve drunk as it is), on his hands and knees, smashing a tambourine against the stage with gleeful wrath. It’s thrilling to see a man momentarily puppeteered by the power of the music, but this kind of channelling of energies is not the rule. If the new album felt slightly less devastating than others on initial listens, tonight at least they’re brought onto more of a par – ‘Welcome, Ghosts’ particularly stands firm. But overall the sound is a little flat and indeed sometimes the album recordings feel like they have more virility than their live counterparts. So explosions, no. More vast shifting lights in the sky. No less beautiful, of course, just not likely to shake you out of your skin. And when you were bracing yourself…
James Berry for Crud Magazine 2006©