Words and photo by Kristofer Thomas
Post-rock is typically a genre most suited to the album format. Constructed largely around texture, atmosphere and progression, the style is one perhaps best experienced alone, through a pair of good headphones, as opposed to a room full of people. Explosions in the Sky should be the perfect reinforcement of this idea. Their narrative-focused compositions and nuanced instrumentation are perfect for an individual experience wherein one can fully appreciate the level of detail involved. However, when post-rock is taken to the live stage it becomes an entirely different beast, with some elements lost in translation and others immeasurably heightened.
Albert Hall was undoubtedly the perfect venue for this symphonic noise, its stained glass windows giving the concert a religious edge as the band took ceremony from the stage. Great waves of distortion and white noise preceded the band’s emergence, and their new cut, ‘Tangle Formations’, opened the night with the band’s signature juxtapositions of pummelling drums and gentle piano lines.
When Explosions in the Sky launch into one of their louder compositions, such as the set’s expansive centrepiece, ‘With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept’, it really is something to behold. The volume itself is almost cathartic and, unlike the intensely detailed headphone experience, the instruments all bleed together into a vast wall of trance-inducing sound.
One of the most interesting features of the night was the band’s decision to fuse their set list with bridges of distortion, creating what seemed like one long composition, as opposed to them simply stopping track after track. It allowed Explosions in the Sky to jump between albums and eras, and demonstrated the nearly two-decade evolution of their distinctive sound.
However, when I submit that certain elements of the experience are lost in translation, I mean this in the sense that when the band was at their delicate best, the entire room was dominated by chatter. Half of the band’s intensity comes from their gentle moments, wherein all the noise is stripped away and only the minimal guitar lines remain. But, add a restless and sold out Albert Hall main room to the equation, and these moments become infuriatingly lost in the crowd noise.
The night was an excellent demonstration of both the virtues and vices of live post-rock, in limbo between miraculously loud and quiet to the point of losing its way. If you value the band’s delicacy and introspection, then it’s better to indulge in the headphone experience, but if you’re all about tinnitus inducing blasts of noise, then Explosions’ live show is an experience like no other.