Explosions in the Sky, New York Society for Ethical Culture, NYC- 2/20
According to the program tossed in my direction as I entered New Yorks cathedral-like Society for Ethical Culture, Explosions in the Skys story beings when Chris Hrasky posted a sign in a Midland, TX store reading wanted: sad, triumphant, rock band. And, after taking in the groups recent New York performance, I do believe Hraskys advertisement was answered
Part of the year long Wordless Music Series, a city-wide program featuring instrumental performances by musicians ranging from Japanese chamber musician Ayano Kataoka to indie-jazz violinist Andrew Bird, Explosions in the Skys short, layered performance explored the possibilities of instrumental music. Without much of an introduction, the quartet stuffed into the relatively intimate counter-culture haven on a rainy Tuesday evening for an hour long set which drew from the groups four prior releases: Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever, The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place, How Strange, Innocence, and the groups newest effort All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone. But, while the group mixed and matched cuts written throughout its eight-year career, the evenings offerings were more about creating a cohesive mood than exploring the individual songs which fill an artists canon.
For an hour the quartet offered a set of careful layered, instrumental music which meshed Sigur Ros heavily orchestrated grandeur with the Benevento/Russo Duos post-rock assault. The group—-guitarists Mark Smith and Munaf Rayani, bassist Michael James, and drummer Christopher Hrasky—-surrounded themselves with a laboratory of guitars, keyboards, loops, and pedals. Like a jazz performance, Explosions in the Skys show focused on creating a specific mood, in this case one rooted in the sad, triumphant, sound Hrasky hoped for when he placed his initial add. More of a focused rock band than an improvisational outfit, the group used the first half of its compositions to create a slow, melancholy wall of sound, led by Smith and Rayanis slow, avant-garde guitar parts. James jumped in next, filling out the duos sound with his thick, melodic bass lines, before Hrasky announced his arrival by pushing the group towards its triumphant peaks, then fading back to those sad but infectious mirror cords. Indeed, like a jambands best improvisational segment, Explosions in the Skys songs peak through a series of long, wordless peaks, yet, unlike most jambands, the groups journey is almost entirely charted out before the group appears onstage.
Though a relatively intimate gig, the Society for Ethical Culture fit Explosions in the Sky like a glove. The venues stage is only a foot higher than the wooden pews which removed the most obvious fan/performer barrier which divides traditional concert settings. Indeed, the venues setup felt inline with the non-denominational organizations five guiding principles:
1) We are all part of something that transcends the individual experience
2) We have responsibilities to each other, to the Society, and to the community at large
3) We are enriched through our interconnectedness with others
4) We find confirmation and validation of our own selves and beliefs through our interactions with others
5) We derive strength through our relationships with others
Explosions is the Sky is the rare composition-heavy rock band whose music manages to emulate the utterly hippie-rock ideal that music can foster a sense of place and community. And, like the best musicians taking part in the Wordless Music Series, they manage to accomplish their goal without uttering a single word.