Explosions in the Sky played the Uptown Theater in Kansas City October 12. If you tell someone you saw or are going to see them, the initial reaction falls two ways: “What’s that?” or “I’m so jealous!” Whether you enjoy them while studying for an exam, working on a project, or baking a Mexican casserole, many would agree they are the perfect music to put on at track one and let it roll through the album and on to the next. Some would say EITS made the soundtrack to their life.
Their style and album structure is the emotional swing of an early twenties college student vacillating between stress and euphoria, darkness and excellentness. Attending their concert is not unlike going to a symphony. The music is fully instrumental with movement and smart development.
Their arrival to the stage was welcomed by applauding hipsters, yuppies, stoners, older professionals, and those who are all of the above. Plenty of plaid in the front. People relaxing in theatre seating in the back. They elected to start off slowly, which shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with their discography. This was a production. A totally mind-altering experience for someone who hasn’t seen them live before.
After a clean intro, the hammer dropped with a bass hit and bright lights for just a beat, like a tease to the tension developing in the eager crowd. Then another and another. Finally they let loose. Some kid behind the rail started playing vicious air drums to the beat of the chemicals firing around in his head. Photographing nearby, I feared the worst for my equipment. This kid was somewhere else mentally, finally getting to release himself with his favorite band just feet away, loving every moment like the rest of the audience.
I still have a hard time believing I saw these people perform in real life. Most of the concert was spent building slowly with these brief moments of hard sound, covering selected tracks blended together with no dialogue. They played excellent tracks from their album The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place as well as new pieces with various songs from their catalogue brushed in seamlessly.
Explosions in the Sky do not rely on powerful visual effects, light boards, smoke machines, or other accessories for their performances. They have minor colored backlights to maintain a certain mood, which swings throughout, complimented with timely dissonance, and discourse.
They are fantastic with their audible effects, all done with electric instruments. Screeching, ear piercing, make-you-go-crazy effects create the perfect setting similar to Pink Floyd’s psychedelic works, none-without peace and extremely clean, smart sound in between. Maybe this is a draw for those who enjoy their music to the fullest, the purists. EITS are a set of musicians and not some kid with a mac, cranking out glitchy effects developed from some binary code freak (Not to knock the style. It simply wouldn’t fit in this genre of instrumental music).
One interesting thing, maybe disappointing, was the difference in crowd’s ideas of when songs and movements started and ended. Since their concert is more of a performance, there are no starting and stopping points. They played straight through for around an hour and a half. People would shout to hear their own voice in the quiet sets, leaving people who know what’s coming to cringe. I would have liked a more polite crowd. Let the sound do its job. Enjoy what they’re doing and know when it’s right to yell and clap your hands red.
The crowd didn’t destroy anything ultimately for me or the people I sat in the back with. MC Ebony ‘Left E. Grove’ Simon attended, and, for him, the peak of the show hit on the drop-in of Greet Death, the opening track from their dark album Those Who Tell the Truth… He knows music well and is a fellow EITS fanatic. Greet Death is a moving, pressing piece with extremely dark tones. It certainly may have been the turning point in the concert, leaving the serenity of slower tracks behind.
I do disagree with him on the peaking moment. The concert built on itself. The way they started quiet and teased with bass hits, hard guitar sounds, and loud dissonance, the set compilation built and teased until the end. They built up a finale with beautiful repetition, getting louder and louder and louder and then, pow! Fade. “Thank you very much. That’s our show.” No encore.
I cracked a great smile. Some people watching around me said it was very strange to not have an encore. I think encores are turning into really predictable, planned events. I admit I hadn’t seen a show without the headliner playing one and was surprised as well, but I was so elated they didn’t. An encore wouldn’t make sense.
The tension constructed over the entire performance until the beautiful peak. Just like a fireworks display. Just like any of their albums. You don’t want to see a bottle rocket go off after a hundred grand worth of gunpowder and various elements explode above you. They compiled tracks from different albums, but played them together as one great, seamless piece. No reason to regress. They did what they came to do. Their work was done. The venue lit up. Everyone was smiling.
Review and photos by Mitch Favrow