April 3, 2007

Explosions blow crowd away, but debris of subpar opening acts remains

I would like to preface this article by saying that the two opening acts for Explosions in the Sky at the Metro on March 28 were nothing short of horrendous. The first act, Eluvium, merely played simple repetitive chord progressions in front of an absurdly ponderous projection of birds flying. However, as annoying as Eluvium was, nothing could have prepared me for the next band. Paper Chase went far beyond being comically bad, settling in the realm of the purely offensive. The music actually hurt me, with lyrics an eight-year-old would not even take credit for. The lead guitarist and singer seemed incapable of playing and singing at the same time. When Explosions in the Sky took the stage at approximately 8:30, two hours after the ordeal began, I was more than ready for actual music.

Guitarist Munaf Rayani briefly introduced the band by saying “We’re Explosions in the Sky from Texas” before immediately launching into a stirring rendition of “First Breath After Coma.” The crowd was overcome with collective joy at the choice of song. The band has the rare talent of becoming completely engrossed in the music individually without losing any cohesion.

Playing live is the perfect environment for Explosions in the Sky. Most of their songs are tailored to extended jamming and seamless improvisation. As the concert progressed, the audience stood in silence, watching as the musicians transitioned from song to song. It was as if the band played a single song spanning over one hour.

The passion of each member could be felt from the start of the show. Guitarist Mark Smith often fell to the floor while he was playing. Rayani swayed back and forth with his eyes closed during the most intense of songs. He too would end up on the floor after becoming hypnotized by the sound he was producing. “Welcome Ghosts,” from the band’s newest album, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, was an early highlight of the performance.

The band members would stand during a loud sequence and literally bang on their instruments, producing remarkable results. At one point during the show, bassist Michael James switched to guitar. The sound of three guitars and drums was nothing short of amazing. Each player added to the aesthetic of the band. While there were three guitarists on stage, no one would have ever mistaken them for an Eagles tribute group. I am thankful for that.

Each song contained different portions allowing the band to increase both their speed and sound. Their performance managed to be grand without degenerating into a sea of pretension. They did not speak, because their instruments carried enough voice for each member.

The concert was an extremely intense experience not only for the band but also the audience. No matter how brilliant the musicianship displayed in the studio work was, the band cannot be fully appreciated without experiencing their unparalleled live performances. The songs on their albums provide a blueprint for the band, the possibilities of which they fearlessly explore in concert.

Sadly, the dreadful stains of the opening acts could not be washed away totally by the time Explosions in the Sky began playing. It was the first time in my life that I went to a concert where the opening acts affected my overall experience. Usually I don’t care, but after wading in the musical cesspool that was Paper Chase, I couldn’t help it. Explosions in the Sky played wonderfully, but they would be better served in the future if they performed without an opening act. They were merely great, just as I expected they would be.

We are judged by the company we keep, and Eluvium and Paper Chase cannot help but reflect on Explosions in the Sky. I would see the band again. Next time, I’ll plan on being fashionably late in an attempt to avoid another opening act hangover.