Texan noiseniks battle big beards and beer monsters to find life in the old rock yet
Explosions In The Sky
THE ICA, LONDON
Monday February 16, 2004
The continued tendency towards post-rock, which in Explosions In The Sky’s case means immense, instrumental, drifting guitarscapes, has brought in its wake its own peculiarities and difficulties. It’s one thing to sit at home and let this music wash from eardrum to eardrum on your headphones, another to go along and see it physically performed, alongside presumably like-minded punters. Or maybe not so like-minded. For barely have Explosions set sail with the stately “Memorial” when it becomes clear that the room is divided. There are those who are filled with the sort of noisy agitation they feel licensed to exhibit at a rock venue, this being loud guitar music and all?and those who regard Explosions as aural cinema, and, this being cinema, feel entitled to “ssshhh!!” the handful of raucous, beer-soaked jabberers during the quieter passages. Surprisingly, it’s the “ssshhh!!”-ers who carry the night, one of whom threatens actual violence towards a particularly squawky female (“Don’t facking tell me to shat ap…”), until she slinks back to the bar. Also notable is a tendency towards beards. We’re not, however, talking about wispy, well-kempt Bohemian chin shrubbery here. We’re talking deliberately bushy, unapologetically misshapen, Will Oldham-type affairs which look like they haven’t been grown so much as assembled by glueing thick, accumulated clumps of pubic hair to the face. One such bearded punter in particular encapsulates all of the raging contradictions in Post-Rock Man. A deep listener, he cannot help himself after each song, erupting like a geyser with the words, “Thank you very much!!”
As for Explosions themselves, their keenness not to distract from the sound prompts them to dress as dully as four young men have ever dressed. Yet there is something visually arresting in the way they set about their work, even down to the absence of mic stands. Although the slower, receding passages of songs like “The Only Moment We Were Alone” stand up well and manage to retain their luminous grace even amid the murky background wash of a live venue, it’s those moments when they yank up the tempo which are the best, unifying both the crowd and the principles of their music. So “Have You Passed Through This Night?” is really something to watch as Munaf Rayani and Mark T Smith bend almost double, wrenching huge, shrieking gobbets of cleansing noise from the recesses of their instruments. In the very best sense, it’s as if they’re scraping the bottom of rock’s barrel, still delving for something fresh, electric, first-hand and alive in the genre. Thank you very much, indeed.