As the lilting, melodramatic theme from “Twin Peaks” faded from the PA system, members of the post-rock instrumental quartet Explosions in the Sky emerged onto SOMA’s main stage last Friday. Against an austere black backdrop, guitarist Munaf Rayani — whose Texas state flag draped over his Fender half stack provided the only visual adornment — addressed the audience. He said, “Hello, we are Explosions in the Sky and we’re from Texas,” before launching into a nonstop 90-minute set.
The stark stage presentation and nonexistent audience banter thematically contrasted with the ornate orchestration of Explosions in the Sky’s three guitarists plus touring bassist/keyboardist/tambourine shaker as they compiled a set encompassing their careers, from crowd favorite “Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die” to their latest opus “Take Care, Take Care, Take Care.” Kicking off its mini-symphony with “Last Known Surroundings,” Explosions in the Sky created a seamless set through the use of interstitial guitar loops that continued to ratchet up the emotional response of the audience between songs.
As the looping guitar work and overdriven fuzz created a wall of white noise, the delicate, arpeggiated fingerpicking of guitarist Michael James slowly chiseled its way out of the dissonance and the next movement in the set would slowly come into focus. These loops also gave Explosions in the Sky total control of the dynamic qualities of its music as it denied the audience a brief respite between songs and, subsequently, made the pauses included after the sweeping crescendos all the more effective.
Another interesting dynamic was the interplay between James’ fingerpicked melodies and guitarist Mark Smith’s drone notes that provided the movement for the band’s music. Woven in with James and Smith is Rayani’s effects-driven textures that allowed the band to accurately recreate the lush production of its later albums: All the while, the anonymous touring bassist provided a heavier rock feel compared to record and added a new dimension to the band’s sound.
This convergence of melody came together particularly well during “The Only Moment We Were Alone,” as Rayani lifted his guitar into the air during the thunderous bass notes and house lights flooded the audience to rapturous applause. Also noteworthy was the energetic “…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead”-esque “Trembling Hands” in which drummer Chris Hrasky punished his snare drum throughout. However, the high point of Explosions in the Sky’s set came during its penultimate song “Let Me Back In” as a sea of entranced music fans softly nodded their heads to the jazz-inspired riffing before an instrumental breakdown that was poignant to the point of absolute silence in the 2400 person venue.
As the level of rapt attention demonstrated, Explosions in the Sky expanded the boundaries of expression capable with a traditional lineup of guitar, bass and drums, all without saying a word.