There comes a time in a man’s life when he discovers a band who’s music chills him to the core. Each note they strike seems perfectly timed, perfectly orchestrated, and perfectly epic. Explosions in the Sky is one of those bands.
As soon as I heard they were going to be performing in Chicago, I knew I had to make the trip. There are only a handful of bands I had on my “Must See Live” list, and Explosions were right near the top of that list. Having listened to them since I discovered they were behind the chilling score for “Friday Night Lights,” I knew their live show would be both enigmatic and intense.
And it did not disappoint.
I walked into the Congress Theater, and there was an unmistakable buzz in the air. The best part about smaller shows is that you can almost be 100% sure that the people there are fans to the truest extent. The place seems like a dive, but that’s not a bad thing in this case. It’s an old gothic-looking theater, and the ambiance is unmistakable. There is a large staircase that leads up to the balcony, and the lobby was packed full with fans. There were refreshment stands aplenty, but unfortunately for me, I just cannot get myself to pay $6 for a 12-ounce can of beer.
The theater also boasted my favorite type of urinal: THE TROTH. I haven’t been to a county fair or outdoor circus since my childhood, and this is easily the thing I miss most. There is a certain feeling of satisfaction one gets when urinating into a receptacle the size of a large bathtub, knowing that no matter the state, you just can’t miss.
General Admission is a wonderful concept, and I was more than happy to pass up the opportunity to stand amidst 1,000 + sweaty teens and take a seat in the balcony with my girlfriend and the rest of her family. We were able to sit right in the center with an impeccable view of the stage. The seats were surely out of the original theater. They provided the bare-minimum of ass-support, although they misleadingly looked to be incredibly thick and packed full of cushion.
I have found opening bands to be very hit-or-miss. Since the opening band at The Wilco show I attended a couple months ago was enjoyable, it seemed mathematically probable that the opening band for this show would be a little more miss than that.
Math proved right.
The band was billed as “Jason Lytle,” and I found it to be an arduous 35-minute set. Not only did they take the stage and either forget to introduce themselves or just not want to, but they then proceeded to play what seemed to be the same downtrodden song for the entire set. Now, I usually try to find the good in everything, but here, there wasn’t any good to be found. The band was so mellow, that they literally almost put me to sleep. And I like mellow music, but it was the same undiscernable high-pitched vocal, acoustic sounding-music for 35 minutes. It really sounded like they were trying much too hard to sound like Radiohead, and just came up short. It was just a really bland, definition of mediocre set.
But then the meat and potatoes took the stage, and Explosions in the Sky proceeded to rock for about 90 minutes. It was both visually impressive while being incredibly simple in scope, and I could not take my eyes of the stage. The band is incredibly precise and well-thought out on their albums, and their live show proved no different. Each song blended into the next perfectly as they covered songs from each album.
One thing that must be pointed out is the intensity this band plays with. The music comes across as very personal to them, and it seems like they themselves are taking a journey as they play, one they allow the audience to accompany them on. It’s both transcendent and intense, and their performance truly feels like flying through heaven on a flaming chariot.
At live shows, at least in my experience, there are a handful of moments that can give the audience chills, but Explosions in the Sky provided me with an entire show’s worth of those moments. Each song was instantly recognizable and gave me goosebumps watching the intensity and fervor the band played with. As they played “Greet Death,” I was enigmatically enthralled and found myself going on an epic journey in my mind.
After a rousing ovation to close the set, the lead guitarist took the stage to apologize for the band not doing an encore, but I think it’s appropriate that they didn’t do one. They don’t seem like a band that needs the self-important satisfaction of coming on to play a couple more songs. They had given everything they had for 90 minutes, and were physically and emotionally spent. If there has ever been a better reason for not doing an encore, I haven’t heard it.
Overall, the concert was a fantastic success, due mainly and completely in part to Explosions in the Sky being true musicians. Some people might find it odd that such a wonderful band doesn’t have any lyrics, or even a lead singer, but to be honest, the band is perfect as they are. The music speaks more powerfully than words ever could.
If you’ve never heard of Explosions in the Sky, do yourself a favor and listen to them. You won’t be disappointed. They are a phenomenal band that produces phenomenal music, and their live show was epic. They might not have all the pomp and circumstance as more well-known bands can offer in terms of special effects at a live show, but I’ll be damned if you can find me a group of more devoted and intense musicians than them.
Score: 9.0/10 (Great)