I have been excited about this show for several months now. I have seen Explosions in the Sky play a couple of times, and their brand of loud post-rock comes across very well on stage. Better, i would say, than it does on record. That's just my perception of course. I have many of their releases, and even though they are good, i just think that the dynamics of what the band do comes across very well in a dark venue, with lots of people, and tremendous volume.
Our Mennonite-like efficiency in buying tickets way in advance sort of harmed us in this case. The nighttime show sold out, so Explosions in the Sky added a second daytime matinee show to their schedule. Dammit. I think i would rather have seen them play in the middle of the afternoon, instead of playing until late on a work night. Oh well.
The opening act went on right at 8:30. This was Lichens, which is the solo project of Robert Lowe, who was previously in a band called 90 Day Men, whom i have never heard of. Oh well. Concert promoter OK Alex described the music as "pastoral" to me, and implied that he thought i would like it. Sounds good.
Mr. Lowe came out and sat, alone, on a darkened stage. He started to play guitar under massive amounts of echo, looping it back on itself creating layers of cascading drone.
Lichens song for a blue guitar.
He set the guitar aside after a while, and added some voice. Not vocals, but just some wordless singing, some tones repeated in long drawn out notes, again looped and echoing.
Lichens are vocally ecstatic.
At times he sounded remarkably Arabic, like something from the soundtrack to Baraka. With the guitar and voice still looped, he began fussing with some electronic stuff, adding a low bass rumble to the proceedings. This echoed through the Playhouse, creating a wonderful multi-layered drone.
A mere 25 minutes after he started, Lowe let the drones fade out, and he stood and took a bow, then wandered off stage. I personally found a mere 25 minutes of this to be not enough. I was fascinated by the sounds he was creating. Then again, i love that sort of ambient music, and i never get to see it performed live. I think he did a remarkable job with it, and i thoroughly enjoyed it. Tracers remarked, "Is he on Make Mine Music?", pointing out that what Lichens are doing is in many way similar to the ambience of the label/collective that i so adore.
Afterwards, i wandered out to the lobby and had the chance to speak, briefly, with Mr. Lowe. He is a small, scrawny man with a crazy forked beard, but he seemed friendly. He releases the Lichens music on Chicago-based ambient label Kranky, which seems appropriate. He has a few albums out, and i would heartily recommend Lichens to ambient fans. If you have the chance to see him live, do so. I cannot guarantee what you will hear, because Mr. Lowe indicated to me that "All of my live performances are improvised, of course". Of course they are.
Anyway, this was an auspicious start to a highly anticipated evening.
After a brief 20 minute interlude, Explosions in the Sky took the stage. They were able to move so fast because their gear was basically set up around Lichens' gear, and all they really had to do was re-set up the pedals in the center of the stage after he cleared out.
They proceeded to play instrumental post-rock for 90 minutes straight. There were barely any pauses. I am terrible with song titles, so i canít really tell you exactly what they played. They did indicate that the evening set would be different than the matinee set, just in case any fans had stuck around for both shows.
Explosions In The Sky: guitar rock from Texas.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. Explosions in the Sky do not play the standard "ebb and flow" post-rock typical of the genre. Their songs are long and drawn out, and build slowly instead of just suddenly exploding. Some songs rock hard, while some meander at a slower, arpeggioed pace.
I particularly liked the drumming, which is martial in tone. That is, instead of playing a 4/4 kick heavy drumming style, Christopher Hrasky plays more tom and snare, creating a really marching beat. It drives the songs along when the guitars are meandering around. When the guitars are going hard and heavy, the drumbeat speeds up, positively hurtling the songs forward.
A shot from later in the evening, where drummer Hrasky looks tired.
The guitarwork is interesting as well. At times, there are three of them, and at others there are two guitars and bass. There are a lot of pedals involved, not that i could see that from my vantage point halfway back in The Variety Playhouse, but guitarists Munaf Rayani and Mark Smith post spent significant amounts of time kneeling on the stage while tweaking effects and strumming their guitars.
Guitar and drums in action.
The set ended with a particularly raucous number that involved Rayani beating a tambourine on the floor, essentially destroying it, as pieces of wood and metal flew around the stage and into the crowd. The other three members, pounded away on their instruments, keeping a monotonous driving beat to the destruction of the tambourine. Magnificent, if needlessly destructive.
This was yet another great set by this band. I am continuously impressed with their live performances, and i look forward to the next time they come into town. If you like loud post-rock, then you need to see Explosions in the Sky live. They do it remarkably well.