Saturday, March 03, 2007

Explosions in the Sky, Koko, London, 1.3.07

When I first saw Explosions in the Sky in 2003, the crowd begged for an encore, and guitarist Munaf Ruyani had to come back out on stage and apologetically explain that they didn't have anything else to play. Exactly the same thing happened on Thursday night at Koko. This confirmed two of my suspicions about Explosions in the Sky: that they plan and rehearse their gigs with the precision of a string quartet – there wasn't a note's difference, so far as I could tell, from the album versions of these songs, and it almost felt wrong to clap between 'movements' – and that they're aware of the danger of diminishing returns. You might feel ripped off when a headlining band with five albums on which to draw only play for an hour, but the the fact is the quiet; quiet; quiet... LOUD trick, like fireworks, will only thrill a certain number of times before it gets boring, and it's to Explosions in the Sky's credit that they both admit this and overcome it. Unlike Mogwai, they never quite make you feel like a flaming 747 is about to crash directly into your head, but there's still something transcendent about their crescendoes. They're sparing with the distortion, and most of the time their guitars are achingly high and clear, which means that even when they can't go any louder, they can still go fiercer, because you can actually make out their chord-changes.

I'll be honest: I was expecting a crowd composed entirely of sullen 28-year-old males wearing black ATP T-shirts. (Not that there's anything wrong with that...) But actually the audience was mostly pretty young and there were a lot of girls; familiar opening chords from breakthrough album The Earth Is Not A Cold Place got whoops and shouts of 'Brrrap!' Explosions in the Sky have snared an indie audience, which is impressive given that they're basically as anonymous as techno producers – but, on the other hand, with at least one recent high-profile British indie album totally wrecked by its lyrics, maybe people like a band who aren't afraid to shut up. You might say that Explosions in the Sky are just trying to be heroic in an age of fatuity.

Despite the band's meticulous methods, the best moment was unplanned. A bloke managed to get up on stage during the last song, and as the security guards were tackling him off, they accidentally pulled out Michael James' guitar lead. Frantic roadies couldn't fix it, and it looked like the gig's climax was going to be botched. But at the very last moment, there was a crackle of distortion as James plugged himself back in, lifted his guitar over his head, swiped out his first howling chord, and punched the air. It was like when James Bond defuses a bomb with the timer at 0:01, except much better, and the crowd were ecstatic. I'd like to say that this proves that Explosions in the Sky should embrace the chaos of rock'n'roll, but really we don't need any more bands that rely on 'the chaos of rock'n'roll' instead of actual commitment. Still, everyone loved it when they tried out some serious eighties metal poses in the gig's closing moments: why is there no equivalent of the devil-horns gesture for post-rock?

[Read our review of All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone here.]

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