Explosions In The Sky

When a Rough Trade in-store sells out way before the event you know you’re going to be in for a bit of a musical treat… That or you’re watching a band that’s pressed all the industry juggernaut buttons to become “Hotly-Tipped” and is in the process of becoming the “Next Big Thing”. Given that Explosions In the Sky’s Rough Trade East show came the day after they played the Royal Albert Hall, I was firmly on the “treat” side of the fence when Lampy and I arrived to see the band soundcheck.

Explosions In the SkyExplosions In the Sky tour as an instrumental five-piece band, adding bassist, and old friend Carlos Torres to their normal line up of Chris Hrasky, Michael James, Munraf Rayani and Mark Smith. This enables the band to fill out some of the bass beats and sounds that are a feature of some of EITS’s more recent songs when playing live. With 5 multi-instrumental musicians lined up to play, there was not a whole heap of room to move on stage… Chatting to Mark Smith after soundcheck, it appears that there was a collective gasp of shock from the band on arrival at RT when they saw the diminutive stage for the first time (well, they had just played the Royal Albert Hall, so any venue’s going to find itself having a hard act to follow), but that their crew, working with Grant (RT’s resident sound man, and ad hoc wiring guru) had done a great job of cramming all the ban’s kit on to the stage, but that there might not be much room for the band to roam… This was good news for me as a photographer… This meant as I’d scoped out where I was going to stand (including burrowing through all the boxes of stock at the counter-side of the stage to get an unobstructed view on to the stage, much to the staff’s amusement), I was good for the set and wouldn’t have to move around too much (tough to do when there’s a full house at RT).

Explosions In the SkyI guess people who write about music like to pop bands in genre-boxes to make them easy to compare and provide a frame of reference from which to make their pithy comments. In that EITS are a guitar and drum heavy group, which plays something other than classically defined “Rock” then they are a “Post-Rock” band (sensu Reynolds, 1994), but to be fair, it’s a label that means next to nothing when you start listening to ETIS live. This is fantastic and mesmerising stuff, with layers of intricate and beautifully nuanced guitar, driven onwards by Chris’s beat-perfect drums. The effect is incredibly sensitive, atmospheric and, at times emotional. It transfixes the crowd completely. In many tracks the band sways synchronously to to the driving rhythm that lies somewhere behind the superficial layers of sound only to burst to the surface in a crashing crescendo before a Explosions In the Skysudden diminuendo punctuated only by the most delicate of guitar picking eclipses the roaring torrent of sound. This is the music of rolling vistas, freshly revealed. It’s music that’s perfect accompaniment to a time-lapse film of clouds scudding across the sea cutting to ocean rollers crashing on a shingle beach one minute, and next it’s the feeling of warm sunshine on the skin as the world passes by on the other side of the of the train carriage window. No wonder EITS have so many film credits for their work!

This is powerful stuff, and not something I thought could be done live, let alone in the back of a record store on a Tuesday night. Unsurprisingly the crowd loved this very special and intimate gig. It was also only Explosion in the Sky’s second in-store in 15 years, and seeing how much the band enjoyed playing and how excited they were by the sound they made, I doubt it will be their last By the band’s own admission they felt that they played better at this show than the Big-One the night before…

Lampy says:  I was really nervous about lighting this lot. Such expansive soundscapes deserve complementary lighting and for that you really need to know the music inside out. I didnt. The limited RT rig (several LED powerbricks either side of the stage, a glitterball a couple of ‘mobile’ LEDs and a small flock of birdies) did have a bit of a boost with addition of some new dmx software and a bit of pre programming. But still it was all a bit of reacting to the music and guessing in the overall rhythm and feel of a track within the first few bars. Seriously tough with this lot! I have the utmost respect for their lighting guy, and maybe a healthy dose of jealousy too…

Rough Trade East, 26/04/2016.


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