Words by Matthew Osborne / Pics by Reuben Penny
I’d almost forgotten about Explosions in the Sky. Back at the turn of the century, post-rock was a formidable genre with bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai and Sigur Rós making music that seemed to wordlessly say something significant about the human condition through cinematic and sometimes apocalyptic music.
With their 2003 release, The World Is Not a Cold Dead Place, Explosions in the Sky (EITS) made something quite beautiful which celebrated what it was to be alive on this planet, full of epic songs with life-affirming titles such as ‘First Breath After a Coma’. Since 2011’s Take Care, Take Care, however, which fell into the category of more-of-the-same, along with the works of many of their contemporaries, EITS fell off my radar.
Coming across them again on a cold Monday night in Birmingham, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Their current record, The Wilderness, whilst adding some electronica to their palette, had underwhelmed me upon first listen.
Arriving at the O2 Institute midway through the opening act, Entrance, we buy beers and immediately look for somewhere to get away from this drab, one-man-and-his-guitar act who is sucking the life out of the room with every reverb heavy chord.
The light show is mesmerising, and the first ethereal notes of the title track to the new record gently leak out from the stage, entrancing the assembled throng. The photographers in the pit scurry around taking shots by poking their heads through what looks like shards of heavenly light, trying to get a shot through a dimensional portal.
Then, without warning, the band erupt into a wall of noise, distorted and beautiful, and the five members thrash about the stage, lost in their own music. On the left are Mark Smith and Michael James, head-banging to every beat, and on the right are Munaf Rayani and Carlos Torres (EITS’s fifth member whilst touring) who are writhing, like charmed snakes, to the gentle melodies beneath the powerful drumming of Chris Hrasky.
EITS work their way through a set comprised of old and new material, the oldies getting the bigger round of applause and the occasional clap-along from the audience as the tension builds to the inevitable climaxes dotted throughout each piece. At one point the wedding bands of three of the members glint and catch my eye at the same time, and I contemplate a supposition that these guys are good wholesome folk who understand love in its purest sense. That certainly comes through in their music.
I am also willing to gamble that they are excellent lovers, if their music is anything to go by. They are in no hurry to get to the climax, happy to be suspended in a moment for as long as it needs. The big pay-offs always come, but are sometimes sudden and surprising, especially to newcomers – like my companion this evening who watches enthralled for the whole performance, her body rocking with the band’s every beat.
Sadly, all good things come to an end. Fortunately this is nothing short of spectacular with EITS resurrecting two classics from their much-loved third album, The World is Not a Cold Dead Place. Cheers go up as a familiar riff breaks through the ambient dramatics of ‘The Only Moment We Were Alone’, and for ten minutes we are caught suspended in something magical – a wordless story which slowly unravels, becoming an overwhelming blanket of sound, building and building until it can’t reach any higher and ending in a sudden silence as the lights go down.
Tonight is a truly spectacular piece of musical theatre. EITS show that the apparently tired sounds of the post rock genre can still ring pure and true when played at the right volumes, with the mastery of a talented band of musicians who understand the dynamics of their work.
As we are kicked out of the O2 Institute, into the sharp chill of Monday night in Digbeth, amidst the drunks and the litter, it is hard not to find some sort of beauty inherent in every scene. You just need to approach it with the right pair of eyes, and the right set of ears. Without speaking a word tonight, Explosions in the Sky showed their Birmingham audience that troubles can be overcome and that there is a beauty to life, love and living, that we can forever embrace
For more on Explosions in the Sky, visit www.explosionsinthesky.com
For more from the O2 Institute (Birmingham), visit www.academymusicgroup.com/o2institutebirmingham
For more from DHP, visit www.dhpfamily.com