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Explosions in the Sky

(13 Sep 2011: Fillmore Auditorium — Denver)

Marrying restraint with epic waves of combustible fervor, Explosions in the Sky transcendentally illuminated the emotional spectrum at Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium on September 13, not just in quite-loud-quiet multi-instrumental syncopation, but also in their ability to evoke serenity, and then juxtapose it, volumetrically, with gorgeously arching, meticulously crafted sonic essences.


Throughout the continuous hour and a half long set, songs felt linked in a story that could have been about a catharsis’s catharsis. Ambience and minimalism were skillfully countered-balanced with finely tuned streams of walloping chaos. From a single finger lightly feathering a reverb-soaked note, to a fist literally pounding a guitar with cadenced anxiety, Explosions in the Sky’s performance was completely spectacular, an intricately woven tapestry of tonality, emotive exploration, and narrative pacing that captured every aspect of how it feels to be human.


Songs such as the classic “Greet Death”, and the lead off track “Last Known Surroundings”, from their latest album, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, evoked anthemic sentiments while jazzier tunes such as “Let Me In”, and the epic “Your Hand in Mine”, timelessly bled into an effect pedal’s leftover swirl or an un-silenced guitar’s echoey shrapnel. This landscape of perpetual noise was never tedious, but rather added to the intoxicating nature of the performance. Each song felt choreographed yet simultaneously intuitive and guttural, which may be the secret behind a band that trades mathematically intricate guitar riffs as easily as they make a single, resonating note encapsulate a small eternity.


Most of the audience was speechless. Only occasional utterances such as, “Oh my God,” or “This is incredible,” could be heard. Between songs, a guy I had been chatting with before the show leaned over to me and said, “How do they know when to start, when to stop?” I replied, “I don’t know,” and then we each returned to our own solitude.


Perhaps the crowd’s focus was a reflection of the intimacy that instrumental music creates, superseding lyrical understanding. Explosions in the Sky reveal a more tangible non-verbal consciousness through tonality, and it was contagious. I could not recall the last time I attended a show where people listened so intently—without ongoing conversations.


Standing among the sedated audience, I submitted to the trance that commanded the room—a testament to the band’s omnipresence, since the vast Fillmore was not near capacity. I closed my eyes and the music’s textures became visceral and almost synesthetic; a percussive framework grounded endlessly crescendoing rocketing shrieks amidst a balladic spectrum of warmly pitched, chimey moans. At times, a pounding bass line or repetitive guitar work added cohesion to melodies of celestial notes that danced in my head like prayer I did not know I knew.


Eyes open, I began to understand why this symphonic performance boasted only a bare minimum light show and no stage adornments, less a Texas state flag hanging over the silver face of a vintage Fender cabinet. It seemed illogical that the swaying, sweating band members were generating these otherworldly sounds—no artificial sensory enhancements were necessary. Michael James’s shirt was saturated from neckline to stomach. Munaf Rayani danced over his Stratocaster as if it controlled him, guitar seemingly nailed to his leg, back arched, head caught in constant motion, while Mark Smith studied his fretboard with the concentration of a scientist conducting an ignitable experiment.


And then it ended. Guitarist Munaf Rayani leaned into a mic and politely thanked the crowd for our attention. The house lights came up. An encore would have been as complicated as time travel.


Clearly evidenced in their recorded work but better experienced through their passionate live show, Explosions in the Sky blend artistic prowess with musical precision to create heart-wrenching, ethereal earthquakes. Meditative and redemptive, they redefine what a live show can accomplish. This music exists for those who want to feel what it is like to live and die in a world suspended between watery eyes and fists pounding the air. This is where my quietly nodding head got blown open like a volcano of hurt and joy, uniting me to the cosmos, or maybe just this earth, for the briefest of moments.


Martin Balgach’s writing has appeared in journals and websites such as The Bitter Oleander, Cream City Review, Fogged Clarity, The Puritan, Opium Magazine, and Rain Taxi, among others. A contributor to the literary blog Numéro Cinq, he holds an MFA from Vermont College, works in publishing, and lives near Boulder, Colorado. More of his work can be found at martinbalgach.com.


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