Live Review: Explosions In The Sky

On a freezing cold Friday night, I made my way to The 02 Academy Brixton to see the Texan Post-Rock quartet aptly named, Explosions In The Sky. Known for their blisteringly intense live performances and songs of epic proportions, this was something I was truly curious to see in a live setting.

Supporting Explosions were Blanck Mass and Lanterns On The Lake. We arrived just in time to catch the last of the latter's set; a similarly instrumental, shoe gaze-style female fronted band. They seemed good, but the sound was poor and although the audience responded well, it was clear people were getting impatient.

This was Explosions In The Sky's biggest London show to date and despite being endlessly compared to the likes of Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor!, It's clear that explosions have developed their own unique sound; a constant searching for the beautiful and the meaningful. From their opening song right through to the end, the music flooded the venue, cascading and flowing into every corner. They performed a mixture of tracks from their albums, not just their latest 2001 release, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, but All Of A Sudden I Miss You, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever and The Earth is Not A Cold Dead Place.

The true beauty of Explosions In The Sky's songs is the ability to combine the acute complexity of multi-layered soundscapes and chaos-inducing percussion with ethereal, slow-motion melancholia and gentle guitar plucks. Each song faded into the other seamlessly, leaving echoes and glimmers of the final guitar chords delicately emanating from the stage before the first new sounds of the next song came to life. With a very short introduction as they walked on stage, there was no talking through the rest of their set. This was serious music to get engrossed in - much like a classical symphony with movements, set structures and musical strategies.

The band's hour and a half set (consisting of just 9 songs!) took the audience on a crescendo-filled adventure of cinematic highs and moody lows which saw the band take to the floor sitting crossed-legged while they plucked their guitars, and then to the other extreme as they flung instruments up in the air and slammed them back down on each impulse and accent of the beat. For a Post-Rock instrumental outfit they were surprisingly engaging to watch.

The musicianship and sheer technical ability was absolutely astounding and being able to concentrate on the music instead of the vocals or a lead singer was refreshing. It became clear to me that these guys were more than just performers. They were musicians in every sense of the word. This was something I had not witnessed entirely before and I certainly won't forget it.

The Birth And Death Of The Day, one of the band's most popular and upbeat songs, set the audience into a frenzy. The song is my personal favourite; it's opening can only be described at utterly awe-inspring. Dissonance, suspensions and reverberation exploded into the room like nothing I've heard before like some sort of sonic heaven, before resolving and moving into the next crescendo-building delight. Pounding percussion (technically brilliant when you listen closely) and a guitar line in the upper register that you can't help but hum along to. If you only listen to one song, make sure it's this one.

With a set consumed in brooding, discordant tension, the music found resolve even in the seeming chaos. The quiet lulls were intensified more by the ever-building anticipation of the labyrinth that is Explosions In The Sky's music, and climaxes were reached with intense ecstasy and contented relief.

Set List:

  • Postcard From 1952
  • Catastrophe and the Cure
  • The Only Moment We Were Alone
  • Be Comfortable, Creature
  • Greet Death
  • Six Days at the Bottom of the Ocean
  • Let Me Back In
  • The Birth and Death of the Day
  • The Moon Is Down

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