It was a night of few words last Friday evening, May 20th, at the Fillmore Philly. Chicago 4-piece ‘Disappears’ opened for Explosions in the Sky to a completely packed room, and what was lacking in banter was surely made up for in rolling crescendos and thunderous applause. Walking in past a fully stocked merch booth being decimated by throngs of eager fans, I was quickly clued in as to how the night would unfold. With 7 vinyl records for sale versus only 4 T-Shirt designs, it was clear that these were bands who favor substance over style. Delighted early-birds were more than eager to snap up wax and limited-edition poster prints, exhausting the entire supply of previous dates designs before the openers even hit the stage. To say this room was stocked with super-fans would be an understatement.
In their 17 years playing music together, Explosions in the Sky have developed quite the passionate and dedicated following. Tickets for this headlining performance were rapidly snatched up in presale and not available at the door. I was eager to situate myself for the opening band, Disappears, who were quick to assemble onstage and kick the night off with a janky bassline and very little fanfare. Hey, who needs a microphone when you can let your instruments do the talking for you?
Disappears, a nondescript 4 piece rock outfit (3 guitars and a drummer) instantly won the attention of the room. With little to get in the way of (or add to) their musical message, I could glean no clues as to their influences or individual personalities. Here were 4 dudes in solid t-shirts (ok, one had a skull) jamming out on their respective instruments (my favorite being a black bass patched up with pink duct tape) and pummeling through their setlist with nary a stray word in edgewise. It wasn’t until the penultimate moment when they thanked Explosions for taking them on tour that the crowd was addressed directly, and even then briefly. Instead they maximized their time on the beautiful Fillmore stage by alternating angular rock and heady shoe gaze; with many in the crowd appropriately staring holes through their vans while nodding along accordingly. I likened the bands sound to very early Hot Hot Heat with a dash of the Nasty Bits, my companion hearing them as an ‘early Radiohead meets Interpol’ (kind words!) and both of us agreeing that this will be a band worth checking in on, and who were well suited to set the stage for EITS.
After 45 mins of Disappears, EITS hit right around 9:30 to an eruption of applauding hands, signaling those few stragglers still at the Ajax bar or merch booth to hightail it back to the main room. In dozens of shows at the Fillmore, I have never seen the back area so desolate during a headliners set, let alone at a sold out event! The feel of electricity in the room was palpable, and I scrambled upstairs to the VIP viewing area just in time to witness 2,000+ smiling faces illuminated by a flash of the house lights as Explosions greeted the crowd. One lone microphone stand hung out on stage right as the band assembled into their places amidst a bevy of pedalboards and instruments. As my tag-along and bandmate put it, [EITS] is “All about the pedals, man.”
Indeed it was. If you are unfamiliar with Explosions In The Sky, there is one thing you should know: their’s is a musical journey. Songs do not abruptly stop and start, mathematical equations and high tech trickery have no home in the soundscapes they evoke. Instead, songs unfold. Layers build upon layers. Themes are revisited as pieces shape into wholes, instruments blending together in both immediate moments and the echoes thereafter. Notes wash over you until you become one with the songs driving force, willing the melodies into place and languishing in their reverberated delays. Opening with the title track from their newest (and 7th) LP, ‘Wilderness,’ the band demonstrated these strengths immediately; guitars weaved and intertwined with each other to a building drumroll until suddenly, it was over.
The crowd barely had time to applaud before the band began the opening notes of ‘The Birth and Death of the Day,’ much to the delight of fans who have been with the group for the past decade. With so many beautiful songs to choose from, picking an EITS set must be no easy task but the band really delivered for their sold-out headlining performance at the Fillmore Philly, alternating crowd favorites with at least 4 tracks off their new album including “The Ecstatics,” “Logic of a Dream,” and “Disintegration anxiety” all of which translated spectacularly to the live setting.
Blue and Purple lights bathed the stage as the band continued to roll through the setlist, with lulls being filled with cheers and applause even when they did not signify the end of a piece. The audience at the Fillmore was all smiles and energy, and covered a very diverse cross section of musical tastes and styles. At one point in the night I found myself discussing the need for more talented local bass players to help round out the New Order cover band one man at the bar was attempting to fashion, and within minutes I was in a luxury box with Philadelphia club DJ and trap legend Swizzymack, who was head banging along with the most diehard of fans. I even scoped a Dillinger Escape Plan shirt and a Saves The Day patch in the crowd, a clear sign of the diverse appeal of Explosions in the Sky.
Wether you know the band from the adaptation of their track ‘Your Hand In Mine’ (used as the Friday Night Lights theme song) or overheard them in a record store and demanded to know what album it was (this was me, it was All of the Sudden I Miss Everyone) the fact is there is just no other band like Explosions. Perhaps it is the lack of lyrics to muddle the message, perhaps it is just the incredible synergy between these musicians, but when you see 2,000+ people enthralled by instrumental music, each experiencing their own personal soundtrack, you see why this band is so special, transcendent even. By the final quarter of their 90 minute set the room was practically buzzing; it was one of the most positive concert experiences I have ever had.
Closing with the 10 minute+ opus “The Only Moment We Were Alone,” I had to shut my eyes to take in the beauty of this composition. Guitar strings strike out like piano keys, cutting through the giant room with precision and clarity. The mind wanders. The eyes, water. Transfixed by the moment, the Fillmore collectively held its breath. As the track built to it’s crescendo and gradual conclusion we were granted release, the echoes still churning in my mind. With the swirl of guitars still fading in our ears, Explosions thanked us for being such a great crowd and I had to agree, this was easily the most focused and rapt audience I have seen at the venue. It was a spiritual experience, to put it lightly, and one that I will eagerly seek out again in the future. I’ve never left a concert with less words spoken feeling more enlightened, my positivity recharged. As the band left the stage and the merch booth line began to snake deep into the venue, that one lone microphone remained bathed in blue light on the stage as a testament to what we had witnessed. 90 minutes, a dizzying display of guitars and drums and not one wasted word: it really was ‘all about the pedals.’