Explosions In The Sky – Radio City Music Hall

[Editor’s Note: This guest post is written by a longtime friend Yishai. When he mentioned to me that he was heading to the Explosions’ show, I asked him to do a review, and that’s what you’re about to read. Enjoy]

To give you a sense of Explosions live show, the last time I saw them back in 2008 at Terminal 5, after they finished an incredibly intense set, the audience stayed and cheered, hoping for an encore. After a few minutes, guitarist Munaf Rayani came out and said something along the lines of “Thank you so much for cheering, but we really leave everything we have on the stage, so we have nothing left to offer but we hope to see you again soon.” And honestly, it made complete sense. Nobody grumbled or cursed him out. Because everyone in the room had just been transported to another place watching this band literally throw themselves in their music, playing every note of their intricate compositions perfectly while thrashing in place on stage. And though we all wanted to go back there one last time, we really did get the feeling that the band just gave us everything they had, leaving the stage dripping with sweat as our ears still rung with feedback.

Last night at Radio City was the largest headlining show they’ve ever played, but they band looked anything but nervous when they sat down directly across the aisle from us to hear opener Low (#humblebrag). Watching them take in Low’s set, they were seemed completely relaxed and were even joking around. (I really wanted to speak to the band, but I realized it probably wasn’t a good idea to bother them a half hour before the biggest show of their lives, especially when they were making a special effort to hear a band that they handpicked to open for them at said show. So I exercised a great deal of restraint and sat there five feet away from them until they left in the middle of Low’s last song.)

Still, I was slightly concerned that they might not be able to replicate the feeling that they instill in crowds in such a large venue.

Then they started playing. The acoustics of Radio City are amazing and the band filled the room with beautiful sound from their first note. In turn, the crowd immediately fell into a silent trance.

They opened with Postcard from 1952, one of the better songs of the new album and a great choice of an opener, as the song builds from a quiet opening to an powerful, uplifting crescendo. From there, they moved through an incredibly tight and perfectly selected set of nine songs (which is actually a long set for them since most of their songs are around 7-10 minutes long), mixing some of their best older songs with the best of the new album. I honestly wouldn’t have changed a single song (with the exception of the closer, which I will get to in a bit).

Some personal highlights were Yasmin the Light and The Only Moment We Were Alone, both of which were played flawlessly. And while some of the new songs sounded a bit rougher than the older stuff, there was a palpable energy when they played them and you could tell that the band was thrilled to be sharing them. A lot of the newer songs feature ambient vocal chants and noises, and I was sort of hoping the band would try to replicate them live, but they chose to run a loop of them instead, which nonetheless sounded great. A particular standout from the new stuff was Let Me Back  In, the new album’s closer and best song. The band also added a new touring member into the fold. He looked more like he should be playing with Slayer than Explosions, but he actually added some nice depth to their music, playing the bass along with some percussion and keys.

The only minor qualm I had with the set was their choice of closing with the song Trembling Hands, the first single off the new album. It is a fast, intense song and the band thought it would be a good choice of closer. To me though, it sounded a bit scattered, and at times it felt like the tempo was off. It is also the shortest song they’ve ever written and ends abruptly, so when it ended, it didn’t feel like the end of a show. But again, that’s a small complaint against an otherwise amazing show. The crowd was great to the band as well, cheering loudly after every song (and often in the middle of songs during false stops).

And while I’m on the topic of qualms: As great as the sound is at Radio City, the lighting is a disaster. I’m not sure who decided that it would be a good idea to put lights on the floor behind the band that blind the entire orchestra section, but they should probably stop doing that. We actually saw Iron & Wine there a couple of months ago, and he actually noticed the problem and asked the lighting guy to turn them off, which was nice. Unfortunately, they were back in full force last night so even though we were sitting twenty rows back, we couldn’t really see the band very well for around half the show, but even that couldn’t put a damper on the night.

There is something really special about seeing Explosions live. Their performances are consistently powerful and captivating and last night, they reminded me why I keep going back to see them. And if for some reason I still haven’t convinced you to go see them, when we were walking out, I saw the drummer and bassist of Ariel’s favorite live band Vampire Weekend (who were probably there to pick up some tips on how to play live). So go see Explosions and you might see some famous indie rockers.

Thanks to Ariel for letting me share my thoughts on your great blog.

The Only Moment We’re Alone

Let Me Back In

Setlist
1. Postcard From 1952
2. The Birth and Death of Day
3. Yasmin the Light
4. Last Known Surroundings
5. The Only Moment We Were Alone
6. Catastrophe and the Cure
7. Let Me Back In
8. Your Hand in Mine
9. Trembling Hands

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