Explosions in the Sky: Post-rock for the masses

Post-rock for the masses came to DC last night, as Explosions in the Sky played to a sold-out house at the large 9:30 Club. I am still having a hard time comprehending how these guys have been selling out nearly all their shows, or how their latest album actually, according to their label’s latest newsletter, “debuted on the Billboard Top 100 Pop Charts at a crisp #76 (right between P. Diddy and Jill Scott)!” So bizarre. The crowd at the show was mostly indie-rockers, with a lot of college students mixed in, and it occurred to me that while Explosions‘ upbeat, major-key post-rock is very accessible for folks in general, it’s also perfect hipster date music. Sure enough, there were a bunch of couples at the show.

My friend and I skipped Eluvium, having seen him at the Warehouse Nextdoor a couple years ago in what was one of my worst concert experiences ever — he actually turned me off from staying to see the band I’d come for, Mono. Unfortunately, we arrived in time for the second opening band, The Paper Chase, who had the distinction of being perhaps the worst opening band I’ve seen since Melomane opened for Wilco last year. Aside from a few off-the-wall guitar solos, this was mostly moronic indie-cock-rock, and the only reason these guys were on the bill is because they’re from Texas, as is Explosions. Not a particularly brilliant pairing otherwise.

All was forgiven when Explosions in the Sky started their set at 8:45, the earliest I’ve ever seen a show at one of these indie clubs in DC (and after very little changeover time after The Paper Chase went offstage). It was a beautiful thing. So, at times, was the music: they played their material very close to the vest, without much variation from the studio albums at all, but they were still pretty powerful. The sound in the louder parts wasn’t great, as the interlocking guitars got pretty hard to hear, but overall it was a decent show, though as with many post-rock shows, it had its share of less exciting moments. The setlist was the exact same as the one they played a few days before in Asheville — I have a fantastic recording of that show — so sadly the element of surprise was lost for me. Oddly, they only played about half of the new album, and didn’t play what I feel is easily the centerpiece song from it, the opening “Birth and Death of the Day.” They played a lot of stuff from the popular The earth is not a cold dead place, and even a couple from Those who tell the truth…, which were noticeably more “rocking” than the more recent material.

Not surprisingly at a sold-out show, a big part of the concert experience was the crowd. The club was pretty packed, and most of the crowd didn’t seem to know when the songs ended — the band mostly transitioned seamlessly between songs — and so people were basically applauding every time the group went from loud to soft. That was kind of annoying. More annoying were the testosterone-laden, probably intoxicated, assholes who kept yelling “YEAH!!!” halfway through every soft section. Did they know anything about the show they had come to? I wonder. Anyway, none of this surprised me, nor did it actually annoy me as much as I expected it to, but it was certainly interesting to see how “post-rock for the masses” played out in a live setting to a packed house. The crowd was very enthusiastic in general though, which was nice to see, calling boisterously for an encore that never came (also not surprising, since they didn’t play one at the Asheville show; maybe they just don’t ever do encores on principle for some reason?).

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