Explosions in the sky, Astoria, London
Thursday 07 February 2008
Texan rockers Explosions in the Sky were born on the fourth of July as they watched the celebratory fireworks nine years ago. Since releasing their third album The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place in 2003, the quartet's word-of-mouth success has established them as the inheritors of Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor's brooding instrumental post-rock. It was only so long before they would follow in Mogwai's footsteps, having been selected to curate the next instalment of the discerning indie fans' festival All Tomorrow's Parties, in May.
Explosions' dedicated and adoring fanbase means they have no problem filling the Astoria. But you can't help feeling that after some brief introductory words preceding opening track "Yasmin the Light", the night starts to feel like an intellectual exercise. Explosions' music does not call for between-songs chatter – it would ruin the reverent mood – but with no pauses to break up the epic tracks, and with their characteristic ebbing and flowing noise levels, one tune merges into the next with little distinction.
The band are almost impeccably tight. Drummer Chris Hrasky is visibly counting on more than one occasion before tapping out the beat on the edge of his drums as guitars surge into the wall of sound. In one vicious track, the distorted bass is far too loud, its frequency threatening to rip open your insides.
But there are moments of utter brilliance. Explosions are undoubtedly masters of their craft. The interplay of Mark Smith and Munaf Rayani's guitar playing is beautiful, chiming guitars transcending the typical rock-guitar sound.
In final song "The Only Moment We Were Alone", the melody of the harmonising guitars rises above the surging noise. They take swift turns from delicate playing to stormy violence that hits you full force with waves of effects-laden sound.
In one particularly dramatic number, Rayani, Smith and bassist Michael James each raise their right hand and strike their instruments hard as a threatening orange-red light casts over the stage. In such moments the band compel and astound, but too often, when you expect to be feeling that knot in your gut, instead lies a sense of disappointing detachment.
Explosions in the Sky can be immensely powerful. In the same way that Rayani more than once falls to his knees as he pours emotion on to his guitar strings, the band could bring us to our knees. What they really need is some fireworks.
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