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March 3, 2008 | by  | in Music |
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Explosions in the Sky

Tuesday 12th of February, San Francisco Bathhouse with Munaf Ravani and Eluvium

The excellent post-rock Texan outfit Explosions in the Sky have been a favourite of mine for years now, so when guitarist Munaf Rayani sauntered out on to the San Francisco Bathhouse balcony for a breather before the band took to the stage, I couldn’t resist asking him for a brief word. Fortunately he was nice enough not to tell me to get lost. Here’s how it went down:

Salient: Explosions have come a long way since beginning in 1999. You’ve gone from playing local shows in Austin to opening for Smashing Pumpkins in a US tour and curating the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. You must be very happy with how things have gone so far. What’s next for the band?

Munaf: Most definitely, we count our lucky stars on a daily basis. We realise that it doesn’t happen to everybody like this, but it happened to us. We’re so grateful. As for the future, we’ve got a lot of touring going on, until June. Yeah, we’re touring till June, and then the idea is to disappear for a little bit, maybe a year or so, then write a new album, get back on the horse. We’ve been playing these songs for a while now. I mean, we had a new album come out last year, but we’re already itching to write another.

Salient: Have you been writing any new material on tour?

Munaf: No, it’s kinda hard for us to write on tour, we just have to focus on the shows at hand. That’s the idea with taking a break from touring after June, we’ll have the focus to write more material.

Salient: Opening for the Smashing Pumpkins must have been interesting, maybe a little bit strange?

Munaf: Definitely, we were very sceptical at first, and we weren’t even sure if we were going to take them up on their invitation. We gave it a lot of consideration, and the whole thing turned out to be spectacular for us. The whole crew, the band treated us with utmost respect, people responded really wonderfully, it was a real daydream type situation. To get to play in front of a big crowd that doesn’t know you is hard, though.

Salient: How does it feel be so far from home playing to so many interested people?

Munaf: Well, we’re quite surprised that anyone even knows this band. That we can come a million miles from home and people show up. That’s really neat, you know?

Any gig featuring the gorgeous instrumental rock of Explosions in the Sky and the minimalist melodic warbling of support act Eluvium is bound to be fairly affecting, but for two members of the San Fran audience, things definitely got a bit much.

This must sound like something a reviewer would make up to create a bit of sensation, but it honestly happened. Within the space of about ten minutes during Eluvium’s opening set, two guys collapsed to the ground in what seemed like quasi- epileptic fits that lasted less than 30 seconds. Either that, or they were both just really ripped on something. They both seemed to be fine upon getting up, which was a relief.

Strange fits aside, one-man ambient act Eluvium (Portlander Matthew Cooper) was fantastic. With a sound that would nestle nicely into anyone’s collection next to Brian Eno or Phillip Glass, Cooper creates lush sonic soundscapes, harnessing depth and repetition to create intensely moody songs. Notably, one song featured the same fragile melody repeated for over 15 minutes and washed with various effects, the quiet riff becoming increasingly louder over time to the point where it became completely overwhelming. This guy’s album catalogue is definitely worth looking into.

Explosions took the stage to wild applause, and guitarist Munaf Rayani took a minute to express the band’s appreciation of our city before they started into ‘Memorial’, one of the sweeter tracks from The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place. With warm melodic guitar tones, smooth bass work and crashing drums melding together to form a driving wall of noise, things on stage sounded just as they should. I was a little doubtful about their ability to reproduce the guitar effects scattered throughout their albums during a live performance, but I needn’t have worried. Things sounded perfect. Even their slightly-over-the- top guitar wrangling was choreographed perfectly.

The band drew widely from their pallete during the set, playing earlier tracks like ‘Greet Death’ and ‘Yasmin the Light’ as well as the more recent ‘Catastrophe and the Cure’ and ‘Welcome, Ghosts’. In particular, the epic ‘With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept’ was a standout, with its extended structure and blistering layers of noise.

Explosions definitely suffer from a lack of diversity in their song structures, though. Their typical intro/buildup/release/ sustain/buildup/release/sustain/fade thing can get a little predictable, and when the volume is cranked to its utmost, this predictability can become a chore for the audience. Despite the undeniable stage presence and impressive fervour with which these guys approach their craft, the sheer repetitiveness of their sound sometimes borders on being formulaic, which doesn’t make for as captivating a show as I’m sure they’re capable of. It would have been nice to hear some of their less predictable early material, like the gorgeous ‘Remember Me as a Time of Day’, which makes good use of acoustic guitar and softer volumes. My pining isn’t much use, though, given that they never play anything from their first album due to embarrassment.

To tell the truth, I was a little relieved when their set ended with the warm and hopeful tones of ‘Your Hand in Mine’. This shouldn’t be taken as too much of a criticism, though; Explosions definitely put on a great show, and I’m sure most of the crowd were ecstatic afterwards. Cutting the set short by a couple of songs could have been an idea. You can have too much of a good thing.

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  1. BillboardBeauty says:

    Great review, and fully agree with you about the reptitiveness off their material, it was a great set, but by the end I was willing them to stop, which was a shame as the gig as a whole was brilliant.

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