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Explosions in the Sky - Live 4/11/11
Despite being more or less my favorite band ever, it has been quite some time since I saw Explosions in the Sky headline a show. It's not for lack of want or trying, either; the last time they headlined anywhere near my location was in October of '04. I guess they come around like they put out albums - not all that frequently. Six and a half years is a lot of time for a band that hasn't quite been around twelve, and a lot can change over that sort of time. A lot has for EitS, I think, though there are enough variables at work that it's kind of hard to pin down what's responsible for what.

First, let me speak of the venues, because I think they're a crucial component. I'm going to discount the time that I saw them open for Smashing Pumpkins, because it was obviously an odd show where virtually no one cared about them. When I saw them the first time, they played the Wexner Center for the Arts, a very nice art hall on the Ohio State University campus. I think they had some very, very limited kind of bar there, perhaps just wine, and I believe that all drinks were to be kept outside of the performance hall. It had two levels and held about five hundred people. Everyone that was there was, without a doubt, there to see EitS. They were dead silent during the songs, only applauding at the end, and the mix was perfect. When they ended the song on a climax-to-silence finish of The Only Moment We Were Alone, you could have heard a hipster drop his thick-framed black glasses.

This time around, they played the Outland Live, a bar in an odd area just outside of downtown Columbus. It was one of the more perplexing venues I've ever been to, perhaps the first I've ever been to that seemed to specialize in serving up the finest in industrial goth scenery. With pool tables. Do goths do billiards? I'm not really that familiar with the whole goth culture, but I have never seen anything that indicates to me that goths are into billiards. Overwrought iron wall fixtures and concrete sculptures, sure. A giant fake marijuana plant, well, I guess. Spray painted mannequin torsos probably fit. Beer? Okay. Coffins? Definitely. Altar / shrine bearing an over-sized picture of someone who I can only imagine recently passed away? Perfectly appropriate. Billiards, though? Hmm...

In any case, the venue was actually very nice, as bars go. High ceilings, outdoor areas, air flow, spacious, etc. The stage was in a very large industrial-style garage. Only one level, and I would be shocked if it even held twice as many people as the Wexner. Why not play somewhere bigger? Somewhere that wouldn't sell out in a day? There was also a bar and a half inside the stage area, on top of the bar in the adjoining area. I mention this because I think it might be very relevant.

Six and a half years is a lot of time. I have no doubt that EitS's music has reached new audiences in that time. Allow me to put on my best snob voice: I do not think that is necessarily a good thing, at least from the perspective of a concert goer such as myself. I wish them all the success in the world, and I hope their music reaches and touches millions, but goddammit, I wish the people seeing them live cared as much about their music as I do.

Different types of music require different types of audience behavior. You do not talk at a classical concert. You also don't really talk at a jazz show. A circle pit is entirely appropriate at a punk or ska show, and moshing is thoroughly acceptable at a hardcore metal show. You don't mosh at a jam band show, but you can dance like a fucking hippie on LSD, because there's a good chance that you are. But you don't do that at a post-rock show, unless you want to seem kind of dumb. In my opinion, the other thing you don't do at a post-rock show is talk. Post-rock is akin to classical. It has huge dynamics. Parts are very quiet. Parts are very loud. It switches between the two rapidly. Also, the songs are long and multi-segmented, and quiet often follows loud, so you also do not applaud before the song is over at a post-rock show because you might drown out parts of the song.

As you can probably guess, all of the above occurred at the Explosions show at the Outland Live. They started off with Memorial, and the beginning was very quiet. Very quiet. People did not stop talking. They barely quieted down. It was actually difficult to hear the music over the crowd. People screamed and cheered after climaxes, crushing the quiet parts of the songs that followed. People talked during slow parts throughout the show, providing a marked distraction. Some fucking idiot screamed "that's fucking brutal!" or some other stupid shit during quiet parts following loud parts. The entire audience could hear him. Easily. There were two women in front of me who talked constantly, whether the music was loud or quiet. They only looked at the stage on occasion, and only paused their chatter to whip out the cell phone and post on Facebook. After about thirty minutes, one of them took a picture of the stage, and then they left.

I know full well that I sound like a bitter, jaded elitist, most likely because I am, but what is the fucking point? If you want to talk, why pay $25 a ticket, shout over the music, fuck up the experience for others, post on Facebook, take a picture as evidence you were there since you likely don't know or remember a single song that was played, and then leave a third of the way into the show? It was a sold out show, and two actual fans probably would have loved to have had those tickets. Is this the new concert experience? God, I (almost) hate to be some kind of fucking Luddite purist about this shit, but put the fucking phone away. Stop taking ten shitty pictures a minute with the flash on, stop posting to fucking Facebook, and stop texting your friends telling them about how you're at a fucking show. Are you really even at the fucking show? Really? Why not put the fucking distractions away and actually experience the show?

So, shitty audience aside, the show itself was great. Explosions played about as awesome a set as I could hope for. There were two songs from each of the old albums, and three from the new, yet-to-be-released one. Roughly in order, the set list was Memorial, Yasmin the Light, The Only Moment We Were Alone, The Birth and Death of the Day, Catastrophe and the Cure, and Greet Death, with three new songs scattered in the middle. With the exception of the opener and the closer, Explosions had a fifth man on stage playing bass, leaving all three string-players in the band proper to play the guitar. They really throw themselves into their songs, which makes a pretty enormous difference, even if it's only visual. Their music is powerful on the stereo, but hearing it and seeing it played live brings a certain intensity that you just can't get at home.

The new songs were all pretty excellent, I thought, and were all markedly different while still remaining true to what makes Explosions Explosions. One had sampled vocals, another had a sample drum loop, and the third had a long segment - perhaps half of the song - that, well, grooved. As in, if an LSD-addled hippie were to start dancing to it, it would not seem horribly out of place or forced. I'm pretty excited to hear the new album, as it has been a number of years since the last, and I'm interested in getting my hands on this new material, hearing it a few times, digesting it. I like what I've heard thus far.

The more shows of all sorts I go to, the more I seem to realize that ones in which all aspects - audience, mix, set list, performance - turn out wonderfully are rare indeed. It's obvious in retrospect, but for some reason, I don't know that I've always realized that. As much as I wish I could have traded the audience for another one more respectful of the music, the other three aspects, all of the ones directly under Explosion's control, were pretty fucking awesome. They put on an excellent live performance, and they're a required attendance if they come within a hundred miles.

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Explosions in the Sky - Live 4/11/11