Explosions in the Sky, Roundhouse, London
Thursday 26 May 2011
For most bands, the microphone is the focal point of a show, the vessel through which lyrics can be sung and thanks given. For the Texan band Explosions in the Sky, however, it is little more than a distraction. Used for a brief hello and goodbye, the mic stands on one side while the four-piece tear through a set filled with emotions and ideas for which words seem insufficient.
Led by the guitar-wielding Munaf Rayani and Mark Smith, Explosions make challenging music brimming with melodic lines. To have the required effect live, this must be delivered faultlessly. Throughout this 90-minute set, in which the music never stops, it is tough to hear a mistake.
Such highly impressive precision, however, does not mean that the Texans are static fretboard-gazers, without stage presence. Swaying and dancing underneath a technicolour light show, the group are irrepressible, reacting to the ebb and flow of the music, whether in the slow-burning build-up of "Let Me Back In" or at the glorious climax of "Your Hand In Mine".
Such climaxes make an Explosions show special. The ambient intimacy of the group's "verse" sections – if they can be so called – is enthralling and wonderfully put together, but Explosions in the Sky are one of few bands who get better the louder they play. They are capable of creating extraordinary amounts of sound: the superb opener, "Last Known Surroundings", reaches titanic decibel-levels, its wailing intro building to a syncopated finale that creates a wall of sound as carefully crafted as an oil painting.
Herein lies their beguiling brilliance. While the quieter moments are laced with beautiful subtle melodies, the gigantic finales also contain microscopic attention to detail, creating joyous riffs at the heart of the group's best songs. Expressively played by Smith and Rayani, the guitars become conduits through which every feasible emotion is channelled, leading the tracks from whispering tributaries to triumphant torrents of sound.
Explosions in the Sky do not hide behind cheap pandering to the crowd, ostentatious presentation or facile singalong choruses. They create a refreshingly old-school atmosphere in which the music is the uncontested centrepiece. It is rewarding to know that bands and shows like this still exist.
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