by Travis Bill
When Texas band Explosions in the Sky offers to play a one-off benefit concert, you can bet your life that, true to the band's name, a spectacle will follow. On a recent Monday evening, Explosions lived up to expectations with a stunning hour-and-fifteen-minute-long performance to aid Jeff Jacobs, the trumpeter of opening band The Drift. Jacobs is currently fighting both cancer and insurmountable medical bills.
To call the show "explosive" is no small statement, given the band's origins. Post-rock is a genre that is inherently easy to write off as unnecessary to experience live. Almost all bands within the genre are instrumental, and most of them rehearse so thoroughly that their live product sounds almost identical to their recorded sound. Yet for all of Explosions in the Sky's similarities between its live performances and recorded music, the live show remains breathtaking. The three guitar/snare drum onslaught certainly mimicked the harmonies and sounds experienced on the band's albums, but the dynamic shifts and hypnotic melodic precision provided a convincing argument that for this band at least, post rock needs to be heard live.
That argument needed no further adjudication than that offered by the first track of the set, "First Breath After Coma." A lone echoing bass drum combined with solemn reverb-drenched guitar to mimic a heartbeat, giving metaphorical life to San Francisco's Great American Music Hall. Midway through the ambient, ten-minute track, Explosions leapt into a marching band anthem, surprising not only for its vigor, but also for its emotional clarity. In contrast, "Catastrophe and the Cure" opened with a barrage of opaque and fearful guitar, only to fall melodiously into a bridge full of light arpeggios. The performance was simultaneously uplifting and horrifying. By the time the show closed with the rapturous "The Only Moment We Were Alone," the venue had hit its capacity for jaws dropped to the floor.
Explosions in the Sky came to California to give hope to a friend in need. By the end of the night, the band had transferred that same sense of upliftment to an audience of strangers. It was a message familiar to the band's loyal fans, but one that simply sounded so much sweeter live.