The instrumental rock band, Explosions in the Sky brought their critically acclaimed live show to the Concert Hall at QPAC in Brisbane’s Cultural precinct for the last date of their Australian tour in support of their most recent album, The Wilderness.
Explosions in the Sky is an American post-rock band from Texas who have released music in one shape or another since forming in 1999. The quartet consists of three guitarists, Michael James, Munaf Rayani and Mark Smith with Chris Hrasky on drums although when on tour they often enlist the services of a fourth guitarist, Carlos Torres.
The band are renowned for their elaborately constructed instrumentals and phenomenal live performances. They have a also gained recognition outside the post-rock genre for providing the soundtrack to several movies and TV Shows.
Let me preface this review by stating that this was my first time seeing any band at the Concert Hall in the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. In fact, the last time I was here was twenty odd years ago to catch British comedian, Ben Elton on a stand up tour and on that occasion I was smack bang in the middle of the front row. I can hardly forget because my mates and I were late that night and we were berated by Elton himself for our tardiness.
Anyway, this time I was perched high on the balcony, in the nose bleed section, overlooking the cavernous interior of the entire room. It was further from the stage than I would have liked but it ended up being a great position to witness the forthcoming light show. And it was only from the balcony that you could truly appreciate how impressive and incredibly stunning the concert hall is for any band to grace, let alone a post-rock band from Texas. Apparently it holds 1600 people and the place looked pretty full. Kudos to the promoter for selecting such a great venue.
I arrived in time to catch the last few songs by support act, Brissy band, FOREVR who were obviously in awe of their surroundings and immensely grateful for the opportunity to showcase their tunes.
Prior to the main event, I popped outside, onto the terrace, to record some of my initial observations. It was a balmy evening in BrisVegas. A diverse crowd was in attendance. Old. Young. Fathers. Sons. Lots of beards. Hipsters. And their girlfriends. The appeal of Explosions in the Sky was quite broad it seemed. Mind you, at the Lyric Theatre, just next door, it was opening night for a ballet performance of The Sleeping Beauty, so it was quite possible I might have got some of those punters mixed up.
I took a few photos of the city lights then it was time to take my seat as the Texans kicked off proceedings with the title track from their latest album, The Wilderness. For me a lot of the appeal of this band is how their music merges from one song into another and it’s the meandering nature of those sonic soundscapes that lure me in like the siren’s call from Greek mythology. They can conjure up moments of exquisite beauty, mixed with melancholy which can suddenly morph into a blistering cacophony of noise that is more likely to perforate an ear drum than crash a ship upon some rocks.
A strip of lights in front and behind the band provided a captivating light show that really complimented their music effectively, surrounding the band in a towering cage of coloured beams, before being lowered down to sweep across the auditorium bathing the crowd in its glow. Even the ceiling of the concert hall, with its unique, architectural design provided an interesting textural surface as swathes of colour swirled over and across it. The rainbow effect during Colors in Space was particularly impressive.
The set list comprised a variety of tracks from the bands career. Songs that stir the senses and encapsulate a number of emotions, such as fear, wonder, desperation, longing. Fan favourites, Greet Death, First Breath after Coma and The Birth and Death of the Day were followed by my personal highlight, Six Days at the Bottom of the Ocean, a track that was apparently inspired by the terrible fate that befell several sailors who survived an explosion onboard a Russian submarine that sank during a training exercise in the Barents Sea on 12 August, 2000. Despite other countries offering their assistance, Russia refused to accept any help and the hapless crew and their stricken vessel spent several days at the bottom of the ocean while nothing was done to rescue them.
Losing our sense of humanity is a theme that permeates many of the band’s songs, none more so than one of their most recent offerings, Disintegration Anxiety which leads into the last song of the night, the epic masterpiece, The Only Moment We Were Alone. The whole show was like a chronicle of love, loss, despair and redemption told in ninety minutes. An auditory analysis of the human condition. This band composes music that captures a particular point in time. Our time. Right here. Right now. In an imperfect world this is the perfect soundtrack.
It’s clear to see that this bunch of musos love what they do. They’re a tight knit group who play with an energy, passion and drive that is often lacking in most of today’s modern rock music, generating sounds that make you feel as though you’re wandering through fields of gold before being dragged kicking and screaming into an abyss only to have swarms of delicate butterflies restore the equilibrium by lifting your tormented soul high above the Earth to float through time forever. The wailing of distorted guitars and feedback is torturous in parts only to dissipate into lullaby like refrains that almost send you to sleep. And it’s this vast range of moods, melodies and rhythms that makes for a very engaging, hypnotic and unforgettable performance. Some might say, a religious experience.
It was a pleasant change to watch one of my favourite bands in a venue with comfortable seating and great acoustics. It was even better to see a lack of phones being used to take photos and videos. However, my biggest gripe, if there has to be one, was with the number of people that had to come and go during the performance. And that was mainly because, from my position, I could hear the side door open and close and then the ushers would shine torches up and down the aisle way, all of which I found to be a bit disruptive.
By the end of the show it was clearly evident that we had witnessed something special. An immersive and cathartic journey for the heart, soul and mind. And there is no lack of superlatives to describe what we were treated to. Dynamic. Majestic. Mesmerising. Relentless. Pulverising. Breathtaking. It’s safe to say the band nearly took the roof off QPAC with their insane instrumentation and judging by how the crowd responded they can’t come back soon enough.
Main photo credit: Instagram (@mothbexley)