Explosions In The Sky @ Colston Hall, Bristol

by Emīls Vilcāns

explosions-sky-wilderness-albumHalf a month after releasing their newest album The Wilderness, the postrock pioneers Explosions in the Sky from Austin, Texas embark on their first European tour in 4 years. Accompanied by Edinburgh’s own We Were Promised Jetpacks for the UK dates, the Texan instrumentalists show off their new colors in a spectacularly emotional  performance at Bristol’s Colston Hall on the 23rd of April.

With 16 years since their first release of How Strange, Innocence (2000), the Texan postrock quartet Explosions in the Sky have managed to make a solid name for themselves, both in the music and film industry. Having their breakthrough with the soundtrack for Friday Night Lights (2004), the band has since worked up it’s way to being one of the most iconic third wave postrock acts around. Known for their massive crescendo builds and emotional delicacy, these guys somewhat transform their sound during the 5 year gap between Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011) and the newly released The Wilderness (2016). Growing up in the atmosphere of 3 other original motion picture soundtracks, the new material has gained similar traits like, the instrumentation elements, noise, composition style and the altogether atmosphere. Admitting that I wasn’t very fond of the album after my first listen, it got me curious. It’s a experimental EITS album without sky exploding crescendos, there’s new drone noise and several new instruments, still has the bands delicacy but lacks the roughness around the edges and is more distinguishable instrumentally…how is it going to stick between the huge pieces of the previous records on stage?

From the door, through the vinyl and t-shirt decorated merchtable, to the stalls, to the bar after one damn fine ale by Bath Ales and back to the front again. My mind was set-on and ready to finally experience thee band I’ve always wanted to hear live. Instead, 4 young lads, dressed in black, step onto the stage. They plug-in their instruments and on a mellow’y aggressive note open with one of their well-known songs – It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning. At this point I understood that the very front of the stalls isn’t the best spot sound-wise. Amongst the loudness and crunchiness of the chorus, the vocals turn into some indistinguishable mumble that only the lyric-knowing fans could make out. Nevertheless, with catching my curiosity from the beginning, We Were Promised Jetpacks turns out to be one of the most energetic and lively indie-rock bands I’ve ever experienced live. With 2 songs from all 3 of their albums and 2 live pieces, the band presented their colors from all its chapters. Although, it was not until the song Sore Thumb from their second album In The Pit Of The Stomach (2011) that I realized I was totally blown away. I mean, this is it. The sound I would prefer hearing from a damn kick-ass indie-rock act. There’s the sound of Kasabian, the influence of Oasis, the tone and the heaviness of a lively post-rock/math-rock scene and a touch of Muse. We Were Promised Jetpacks is a band for those who seek something more than just basic chord progressions and catchy lyrics, something with a backbone within the indie-rock genre. And lookie’ here, they’re touring!

Several moments before finally seeing the Texan quintet for the first time ever, you can not just help but lean back on the good 5 or so years of listening to the band. Explosions in the Sky have truly grown into something more than just heartwarming melodies. In a sense, their music is a refuge, a fortress of captured emotion that reflects on each and everyone of us differently. And facing the random question of “which is your favorite song by the band?” I could just pause in a momentary brain glitch as it’s so hard to distinguish a favorite amongst their works. With a short, weird silence, I gave out the answer of Have You Passed Through This Night? from their 2nd album Those Who Tell The Truth…(2001), an atmospheric masterpiece that has shaken me to the bone more times than I remember. Then the lights went dim, followed by a shout and a round of applause, the Texan quintet finally step onto the stage. With gradually soaring guitars they advance to their spacious opener – Infinite Orbit, a continuous landscape shifter that eventually is trying to take flight, yet, does not reach the achievement the title is set out for. Nevertheless, with the follow-up Tangle Formations you can truly sense the enthusiasm that opens up as a joyful playfulness on the second part of the song.

Accompanied by the simple visual of a light-curtain, this audience separation from the band seems somewhat magical and mysterious. The feeling sticks with you for the whole show, yet, bursts out the most upon hearing the older pieces from the band. As the first notes from The Only Moment We Were Alone started flowing around the venue you could sense a little bit of relief in the audience. After seeing countless videos online with their emotionally energetic output, I didn’t really expect to see that energy unfold with The Wilderness album tour. But, in a sense, the older pieces like Greet Death are so fulfilling and epic that there is no other way of achieving the desired effect than to just go forth and rip it! This is the energy that drove the performance, and, without a surprise, the stand-out tracks were the ones from the previous releases only adding Disintegration Anxiety from the newest one. Yet, the band had given much thought about how the tracks would collide. Combined perfectly in the sense of the created atmosphere, most of the new tracks stood there as if being fillers and were met with silent rounds of applause.

After hearing 11 songs with 6 being from The Wilderness I couldn’t really grasp the fact that the gig was over. Munaf thanked the audience and the band slipped away. Having a rather small group of people standing and applauding for an encore, the chance slimmed down second by second. They didn’t return to the stage. This left me with mixed feelings, as the performance was top-notch I still had larger expectations. Finishing off with Memorial from The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place (2003), they gave out their last breath to a song that should have passed onto Your Hand In Mine in  the encore, but, unfortunately, that never happened. Nevertheless, I left Colston Hall with a sense of satisfaction and a momentary bliss. Explosions in the Sky may not be as radiant and grand as in their glory days, but The Wilderness tour and the album does make you look at the band in a different way. And it was not so long ago that I finally found my way into the newest album myself.