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Explosions in the Sky

(5 Apr 2012: Boulder Theater — Boulder, CO)

There’s a moment during every show that you become transfixed—the only thing happening is the music. Or, at least there should be that moment. If there isn’t, go home and light a candle: either you need to relax or the band you’re seeing sucks. With Explosions in the Sky, that moment happens immediately on the first note, and it lasts until they walk off stage 90 minutes later.

The Boulder Theater was packed to its gills on Thursday April 5—there was hardly room to stand, let alone push your way up for a good view of the stage. On stage were a drum kit, a microphone and three sets of Fender amps, one adorned with a Texan flag. Earlier, Mark Smith, Munaf Rayani and Michael James had been tuning their own guitars and plugging in their own pedals while drummer Chris Hrasky set up his drums – a rare sight to see a touring band, especially one that sells out shows across the country, serving as their own roadies. Now, after taking just enough time to (theoretically) drink a beer together back stage, Rayani led his band mates to the stage as the lights dimmed. After a quick but thoughtful hello, thanks for coming, Explosions in the Sky struck a note, and didn’t say another fucking word until the show was over.

The ebb and flow of their live performance is as perfectly artistically mapped as each of their albums – each vocal-less tune seamlessly drowns into the next, the quartet doesn’t skip a beat. What they do together is somehow blend ambient melodies with orchestrated metal. On disc, you tend to feel like they must rely heavily on synthesizers and keyboards, but on stage you realize it is simply guitars, bass, and drums.

If any of them pause at all it’s to take down half a bottle of water while the other members work their own instrumental prowess through slow, repeated melodies, building to a catharsis when in unison the full band crashes down in an explosion of rain and fire all at once. When this happens, you’ve never seen a band more organically rock than this. At center stage is James, usually playing guitar but sometimes switching for a bass, who has a slight sly smile on his face for most of the evening. When he’s playing bass he strums through every string like a metal guitar player, and when he’s playing guitar you think he might just fall over. To each side of him are Smith and Rayani, who both fall to their knees on their own volition from time to time, never timed together but often it happens in unison. It’s hard to tell whether they are fiddling with the settings on their effects pedals or just sinking into the abyss that is their music. Either way, when this happens the whole crowd strains, standing on their toes to get a better view. In back of them, Hrasky sits behind his drum set calmly pounding out melodic beats.

There was hardly a noise from the crowd the entire show, the majority were left stuck in silence aside from a few hoots and hollers, and the occasional side comment from friend to friend. When the set was over Rayani simply leaned towards them microphone again to say ‘thank you, thanks for coming, we appreciate your time’, and they walked silently off stage. That was all.

Jonathan Kosakow has been a regular contributor for PopMatters since 2009, and became Associate Events Editor two years later. He contributes to Glide Magazine's Hidden Track blog (, both on his own and as a member of the editorial collective Three Grown Men. His writing has also appeared on and, but most of it can be found on the floor of his apartment or stashed away in files on his computer. Jonathan recently earned his Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Denver, and does his best to be an active member of the music and writing community in the Denver/Boulder area. He is the Director of Operations at the Boulder-based company Eco Vessel, and is the co-founder of the music-related website, and the beer-related blog, both currently in production.

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