Review: Explosions in the Sky at Boulder Theater, 4/5/12


Explosions in the Sky began the show on a high note with the familiar, siren-like guitar figure of "First Breath After Coma." Sounds came in waves and then floods, as Chris Hrasky struck an almost martial beat with his snare and propelled the song into the group's signature soaring heights before dropping off completely, like a bird reaching the velocity at which it can glide and perform aerobatic maneuvers to amuse itself.

And these guys never seemed to relent in their energy, only in volume and intensity of sound. It was a sold-out show, and Munaf Rayani still seemed gracious and almost unbelieving that so many people had come to witness the band's keen ability to build and release dynamic atmospheres.

During well over an hour and a half of music, Explosions didn't exactly skimp on material, drawing from virtually its entire catalog, and really, it was like all of the songs were linked together by interludes between songs. The fans who were more familiar with the material picked up on which songs these were from those early sonic hints. The band also played a number of the songs from its latest record, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care.

Though all of Explosions' music is instrumental, within each song there are an array of different voices and techniques to produce the sounds. Sure maybe moments of rising sound level and intensity is something you can predict somewhere at some point in a song, often more than once or twice. But it is these cues and textures and specific dynamics that make and made the songs recognizable, especially right after the show.

From filigrees of tone, directed atmospheres, shimmering melodies on the edges of so many songs, Explosions seemed to make every moment count. Certainly everyone on stage appeared completely focused on their music without coming across as stiff, and when the moments where the music seems to crash down on us after wafting off into the rafters for lingering, uncountable moments, the guys in the band jumped and came down with the weight of the sounds they were creating.

One thing that was striking about this performance was how the musicians clearly come together with different elements in different ways to produce a flow like water, guitar streaming like sunlight, structures like the logic inherent in wind with its own flowing dynamics. Together, these ways of arranging the music and executing it was a lot like how those elements bring weather to the world as we know it. In that sense, Explosions in the Sky make elemental music that does have a leg in the electronic, but mostly its aesthetic is informed by organic processes.

The show ended with what sounded like an amped up version of "Let Me Back In," at the end of which, Rayani took duct tape from a roll to first attack his ebow to his guitar and then the whole thing to the stage. From there, he took an object that was difficult to distinguish to make sliding noises on the guitar while wailing at the stage with a tambourine.

He then either looped this or just let the ebow do its work, and he used both hands to hit all around the stage with the tambourine, and in the end, the whole band shut down the sounds at once. Some people were expecting more, but Explosions had given us plenty, and the sheer emotional intensity and exertion of energy displayed by Explosions made an encore, especially after such a blowout among blowouts, seem like a silly idea.

Earlier in the night, the summery sounds and controlled plinks of guitar gave the starting song from Zammuto, "Groan Man, Don't Cry," the kind of air of a Remain in Light-era Talking Heads song. But this is where the resemblance between the four-piece Zammuto ended. Nick Zammuto leaned down and away from the crowd for the amusing "Zebra Butt" to manipulate sounds with what looked like a Moog sequencer of some kind.

One of the highlights of the set was the caustic, but beautiful and alien, "F U C-3PO," with Zammuto himself making perfect use of the vocoder to suggest a kind of emotional alienation. For that song, Sean Dixon also expertly hit flawless texture rattles and accompaniment. Easy smiles passed between all band members throughout the show, and it didn't all just look like that knowing expression you give to your bandmates when one of you has made a bad, recurring mistake.

Before "Too Late to Topologize," Zammuto asked if any of us liked videos, followed by a query if any of us ever finger skateboarded? He didn't get much of a response for that, but on the screen behind the band, a video of fingers skateboarding and even landing some movies was projected. For "Weird Ceiling" the video was various people in all sorts of pain on odd backgrounds -- which could be horrific, but it was so cartoonish no one could take that seriously.

For the final song, Zammuto told us it was going to be "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." It seemed like he had to be kidding, but he wasn't. The video depicted people playing auto harps, and the videos were spliced together with music to form a kind of glitchy "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Brilliant. And the band joined in the back up the video players of the auto harp. It was like pranking on another level involving a large audience, and probably no one will forget at least that part of the show for years.


Personal Bias: Was a fan of both Explosions and the Books (and the new Zammuto stuff for that matter) before the show.

Random Detail: Zammuto had some hand screen printed copies of the new LP for sale at this show.

By the Way: Zammuto is coming back to play the Communikey Festival on April 26 at Shine. For more information, please visit www.communikey.us

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