I’m a kid now, but when I saw Explosions in the Sky three years ago, I was truly a kid. Nineteen, I guess, at Merriweather Post Pavilion, stretched out on the wet grass of the lawn section and soaking up their opening set before Flaming Lips came on. Seeing them again at the Jefferson felt sort of similar, watching them play in dim light as their guitars bounced off the walls and blanketed the more intimate space. Whether it’s your first or fifth time seeing Explosions in the Sky, that sense of familiarity seems to be the group’s main appeal: closing your eyes, forgetting your place in an audience, and the five guys with guitars and a drum kit onstage. Losing yourself in a story or a series of images you’ve created for yourself, maybe remembering something good.
Explosions in the Sky performed June 22 at The Jefferson Theater. (Publicity Photo)
That’s the lure of “post-rock”, the label the band seems unable to shake, however much they’ve vocalized their dissociation from it. What makes them great, one of the last surviving instrumental acts of its kind, is Explosions’ ability to bathe listeners in emotion without dictating the ultimate tone, a trait that was in full effect last Friday night, as the band blended songs in the set with careful and decisively chosen transitions. Following Zammuto’s weirdly entertaining and interactive opening, composed of auto-tune, footage of zebra butts, burning Christmas trees, and a lively adaptation of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, the stage was soon covered in a calm stillness. We were thrown into the all-familiar strumming of more basic instruments. Eerie notes matched with the soft dancing of fingers on guitars in simple but powerful melodies, heavy percussion filled up the room, as the notes pulled and stretched across song after song, grinding and echoing against our ears.
While Explosions tapped heavily into their older stuff, playing songs like “The Birth and Death of the Day” and “Your Hand in Mine”, the formula of light calm and jam-worthy build and release that marks such albums as All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone and The Earth is Not a Cold, Dead Place was occasionally spliced with slightly more experimental and jarring tunes from the newest album, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. The faint sound of voices and light Radiohead-Reckoner-ish clap of percussion in “Let Me Back In”, for instance, brought a refreshing dip in the overall progression of the set. As expected, the awe of eyes fixed on the band was matched only by equally enthusiastic jamming, as Explosions finished the set with some enviable guitar chops. Each member of the band rocked back and forth, in his own element, Munaf Rayani occasionally amping up the percussion by banging on the drums with an extra pair of drumsticks or falling to his knees, repeatedly and swiftly smacking a tambourine against the stage.
Some claim Explosions in the Sky doesn’t have much left to explore in their brand of music, despite some of the departures made in Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. But seeing them live only reminds fans that progress for a band’s music isn’t necessarily a series of radical rebirths from album to album. Moving through their albums begins to feel like moving through a life, one that brings something new of its own with time, yet builds on the familiar. Isn’t this the reason why most of us rarely blast only a single Explosions song in one sitting? Whether it was heavy personal experience or purely a cool peace and blissful nothing that filled the heads of those watching Explosions at the Jefferson, the show gave us all that we wanted. We swayed and bounced as a collective as guitarist Michael James smiled to himself, moving his fingers through an old tune, probably remembering something good. -Suzanne Hodges