Explosions in the Sky couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate name. As per their moniker, the Austin Texas instrumental troupe specialise in high-soaring, rock pyrotechnics that fizzle and simmer, before invariably erupting into a blaze of riffs.
On the opening date of their world tour, it was like watching a nuclear detonation in musical form, an endless barrage of mushroom-cloud guitars and phosphorescent chord progressions.
Early in their career, the quartet were overshadowed by other groups operating in the same, largely instrumental milieu. But while bands such as Mogwai, and Godspeed You Black Emperor! have either descended into self-parody or retreated into obscurity, Explosions in the Sky have continued to grow, artistically, and in popularity.
Their recently released, seventh album, The Wilderness, was unanimously praised for pushing their quiet/loud/LOUD! dynamic into innovative new directions. It was also a top-30 hit in the United States, proof that creative dynamism and commercial success are not mutually exclusive.
In concert, their biggest innovation was the absence of grumpy self-seriousness. The gig began with guitarist, Mark Smith, stepping up to the mic and thanking the audience for its continued support. It was a small gesture — but a world removed from the po-faced joylessness that so-called ‘post-rock’ outfits typically evince.
The message was clear: Explosions in the Sky weren’t up on stage suffering for their art and for our entertainment. They were there because they wanted to be, because they thought their music stood for something. A soaring wonder infused the performance. ‘Infinite Orbit’ began with a trickle of power-chords, then zoomed towards the troposphere; the symphonic ‘Greet Death’ was a sci-fi soundtrack in miniature.
Admittedly, the band’s reliance on formula was palpable, with interludes inevitably giving way to volcanic upswells. But the roller-coaster nature of the gig brought an almost cathartic thrill. Explosions in the Sky were, from start to end, an absolute blast.
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