San Francisco Bathhouse
Feb 12 | Reviewed by Brannavan Gnanalingam

I’D ALWAYS assumed I’d be deaf by the age of fifty, smug in the knowledge that smart people will have discovered a cure for deafness by then. After the performance by Explosions in the Sky, I’m assuming I’m going to have to endure a premature period of silent solitude first. It was loud, in an arresting, charming way. And boy could they play their instruments, the drumming in particular was unbelievable, and the often visually co-ordinated guitar work thrilling. But it was the sweltering loud moments that will be the lasting memory of the gig, as Explosions in the Sky proved that post-rock, despite that ‘genre’s’ patient jamming, and occasional mathematical build-up, is a thrilling thing to witness live.

The night was opened by Thought Creature, a rather odd choice for an opening act for this particular show, but I have been impressed by them in the past. They did get off to a sloppy and inhibited start (maybe they thought they were an odd choice too – after all vocals were an anomaly in the show), but their channelling of basically anything New York circa 1975-1985 took off nicely by the end, especially when they moved to a more No Wave/Cramps-ish sound. Their interactions grew more and more compelling, and with messed up time signatures and rhythms, they displayed a more assured control. Their overall playing is getting more confident in general the times I have seen them, and they are on their way to making a deserved name for themselves.

Portland ambient artist Eluvium probably needed to have a sit down audience for his set. His stuff was gorgeous, dreamy soundscapes, gentle piano work, swooning crescendos with chords built up a note at a time through loops that refused to get boring, the type of stuff that can be given the epithet “filmic” but is so much more. However, the Wellington crowd came to the party again to ruin the subtle atmospherics of his music. If those audience members put as much effort into life, as they do in talking over music at gigs, they might actually be cool. It was a shame, but Eluvium’s set was mangled by the audience din.

Luckily Explosions in the Sky’s four man sound gave no chance of an audience drown-out. The audience was probably more receptive too. Their epic hour and a half set was built up on a series of binaries – loud/soft, high/low notes, slow/fast (even if the basic beat was generally quite metronomic). There was very little room for middle ground, though their set did mix up crescendos with the more common explosions (no pun intended, unless the band intended it). At times it was a bit too predictable, you’d think ‘here is where they blast off’, ‘here is where they die down’, but then again, this would be incredibly difficult music to even attempt to improvise, let alone play with considerable practice. And for the most part, they pulled their music off so wonderfully well. At times the music was so intense, it was easy to forget that there was an incredibly complex interplay going on underneath. By the end of their set, they were exhausted, giving their all, and thrilling their audience in showing music doesn’t need vocals to be so utterly compelling.