Sydney Opera House, 23/02/17
Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Ros have a lot in common; they’re both post-rock titans, both regarded as two of the best live acts on the planet and both impossible to review without sounding like a total wanker. Being that I’ve already put my English major to use writing about Sigur Ros, I guess it’s about time to tumble down the existential rabbit hole that is an Explosions in the Sky concert.
I’d usually pad out the review with a few interesting setlist tidbits. For example, the band played a nice selection of tracks from their latest, electronic-tinged effort The Wilderness, whilst still finding time for fan-favourites and deeper cuts like ‘The Only Moment We Were Alone’, ‘Your Hand In Mine’ and ‘Greet Death’. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I just pulled these from setlist.fm. Although I’m pretty familiar with the band’s discography, within about three songs I’d completely lost track of what had been played, and even what was currently being played.
The four members (or five for the live show) are such masters of their craft that it really doesn’t matter which composition they’re messing with. And that’s a great thing. Whilst usually I find myself painfully aware of time zipping by when you can identify each song played, time runs weird at an EITS gig. The band don’t talk at all during the performance, and songs often blend into each other. By the end of the evening I honestly had no idea whether I’d been sitting in the Opera House for 30 minutes, or 3 hours. But I did feel like it’d pondered many of life’s biggest philosophical questions. Seriously, if you’re planning to see the band anytime soon, perhaps write down a list of the biggest quandaries in your life (is there a God? Do I have individual agency? Are we simply ants stuck on a rock hurtling through space?), or at least read The Stranger so you’ve got something to ponder whilst your mind goes to such fantastic and enlightened places.
As a writer at a place whose tagline is “The Home Of Live Music”, I’m pretty sure I’m contractually obligated to gush on about how much better live music is then its studio counterpart, but this really really is the case for Explosions in The Sky. Whilst they sound great on album, I find that it’s difficult to properly pay attention to the little intricacies of their music; how the quietest, most understated note builds to the loudest, most epic crescendo. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying, it’s rare that I actually get the opportunity to listen to an album from start to finish, focussing on nothing else but the music itself. Here’s where I insert a wanky, overused point about the “short attention span of the digital generation”. But seriously it is true, and seeing the band live means you get to do just this.
Plus, it helps when you’re seeing it at the Sydney Opera House! As the band themselves acknowledged in their brief opening monologue, it’s truly incredible getting to perform/hear this style of music in this room. Although the Opera House sound team probably had a collective heart attack when it was announced the band would be rolling into town, they seriously did an amazing job and produced what was quite possibly one of the best sounding (and loudest) gigs I’ve ever been too. You could truly hear every note perfectly, and feel every crescendo. Those poor Toaster residents…
The band also brought their renowned light-show and army of smoke machines, often starting a song as shadowy silhouettes and ending it illuminated by all the colours of the rainbow. It made for a very stressful night for our photographer, but an immersive experience in keeping with the epic music for everyone else.
Whist each and every show at the Opera House is a treat (it’s easily Sydney’s best venue), it can often feel like this because of the novelty of the place, rather than the appropriateness of the band’s sound. Explosions in the Sky however were perfectly suited to the cavernous, awe-inducing halls, and they truly felt right at home. I really can’t imagine them every playing any other Sydney venue. Now I’m going to go and use my observations from last night to go do some pseudo-intellectual philosophising…
Do some amateur pondering of your own with our recording of the band here on YouTube.