There comes a moment in nearly every Explosions in the Sky song where the music, after a few minutes of escalating dramatic tension, can go climb no higher. The track stops for the briefest of seconds, then: crashing, banging, ringing, pounding, thrashing.
It’s an extraordinary thing to hear, made all the more poignant when it’s experienced live, especially at a venue like Radio City Music Hall, where the Texas quartet (plus an extra touring member) played last night, with its magnificent, crystal clear sound system and decadent interior.
This capital-M Moment occurs about six minutes into “Catastrophe and the Cure,” one of nine songs performed at Radio City. After a steady build of chiming guitars and rat-a-tat drumming, the song literally stops, allowing the audience to take a final breath before the commotion, when the noise doubles, then triples on top of itself, swirling and ringing, far more exhilarating than anything the Rockettes have ever done.
Likewise, “The Only Moment We Were Alone,” from 2003’s brilliant The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, and “The Birth and Death of the Day” are self-contained stories, packing in as much punch and as many emotions in 10 minute as the equally thematic Tommy did in 80, causing journalists like myself to write words like “somber’ and “realization” and “feelings band” in their notebook. “Let Me Back In,” from their still-technically-unreleased new album, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, has a playful intro, exciting middle, thrilling climax, and satisfying conclusion, and the audience clapped and ohh’d and aww’d at all the right places, placing themselves into the song for added (and intended) effect.
After a brief intro, during which, with the Texas state flag draped over an amp, the band acknowledged their joy in playing a place like Radio City Music Hall, they launched into “Postcard from 1952,” and didn’t stop until the jumpy “Trembling Hands” ended 80 minutes later. The set is effectively bridged together by a wave of distortion that occurs between the songs, giving the band time to tune their instruments before the next double-digit track.
To pull this off, though, they need the band to, and I’m getting into Coach Eric Taylor mode here, work as one. Although loose-limbed Michael James, who moves his body in a way not all that dissimilar from Doug Martsch, stands front and middle, fellow guitarists Munaf Rayani and Michael James and steady drummer Chris Hrasky are right there—in football terms, the guards and tackles to his center, all with the same goal: to win State…I mean, play as elegantly, melodically, and loudly as possible.
Which reminds me: “Your Hand in Mine” is the Brian’s Song of post-rock songs, in that it’s totally acceptable for grown men to cry during it, particularly if they’re still trying to recover from the end of Friday Night Lights, TV’s best show when Breaking Bad isn’t on. It’s the closest thing Explosions has to a hit, and when the crowd recognized the song’s twinkling guitar intro, there were cheers and toasts made with Radio City’s double-digit priced beer. When the stage lights flickered like fireworks above, I had to all but physically restrain myself from shouting, “Clear eyes! Full hearts! Can’t lose!” It’s not only the motto of the Dillon/East Dillon Panthers/Lions; it’s an apt description of Explosions in the Sky, too.
Photos by Nadia Chaudhury