It’s been a decade since well-respected label Temporary Residence launched; with the plethora of excellent albums released by the group, the number of their bands that have seen a recent jump in popularity, and the high-profile signings they’ve made, who wouldn’t want to celebrate their tenth birthday? A three-night stand at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, with four different Temporary Residence acts each night, was the party they threw, and not even Hurricane Ernesto was going to stop me from dropping by one of the nights. I attended the second show of the three, featuring one of my personal favorite and one of the most important bands in music today, Explosions in the Sky.
Soaked, freezing, and out twelve bucks for a cab, we waited forty-five minutes after doors opened for the opening act to come on, an indie rock group named Lazarus. The focal point of the group is the enormous vocalist and acoustic guitarist, a man who probably stood six foot seven, looming over the crowd as the band began to play material from their three albums. They played acoustic indie rock with keyboards and percussion, and although they used some electric guitar and xylophone rather well, their performance was unremarkable and wasn’t enough to hold my interest for too long. I give them a 5/10, simply for talent.
Caroline’s mixture of cutesy pop music and atmospheric, almost ambient music is a flawless combination, and she’s got an interesting voice as well. It was only her and her friend on stage, in front of Mac computers with God-knows-what on the screen, which was a little awkward at first. During the second song, “All I Need,” her computer actually crashed, leaving her high and dry and leaving the crowd rather embarrassed; the recovery was quick though, and she continued on, albeit with little eye contact. It was a shy performance with little stage presence, but the music was solid and Caroline’s voice was on point as well. The crowd was into it as well, which was nice, because you could tell she looked pretty nervous, especially after the computer malfunction. I’d say she deserves a 7/10.
Eluvium, the ambient project of Matthew Cooper, was something I was really eager to see, as I had no idea how it would be pulled off in a live setting. This man has made some of the dreamiest, beautiful music around -- it’s almost as if time stops as his albums progress. If Caroline was nervous, Cooper was a wreck, hands shaking and eyes wide like a deer in headlights as he set up his gear. He opened with a piano piece that also opens his brand new EP, When I Live by the Garden and the Sea, and although it’s essentially one part repeated over and over, he had great control over the tempo and loudness of what he was playing; as the song would progress, it gradually got louder and more intense, feeling more and more like an actual composition, rather than just a looped piece. The more ambient songs were the real treat, however, even though it’s difficult to figure out how he achieves such a sound. For something so minimalist sounding, the music is actually very deep with many things going on at once, and with a lot of emotion. Matthews Cooper took all the focus off of himself with the music, as it swept the crowd away, most of them with eyes closed, taking it all in. He only played five or six songs, but it was wonderful. 8/10.
In a fun segway between Eluvium and Explosions, Cooper thanked the head of Temporary Residence for making it all possible for everyone there, and proceeded to try to play him “Happy Birthday” on piano. After fumbling around with it for a few minutes and realizing he had no idea why it wasn’t working he just went up to the microphone and sang it himself, getting the crowd to sing as well. It was a silly way to pass the time between groups, and it garnered a good laugh.
There isn’t a hotter band on the scene right now than post-rock behemoth Explosions in the Sky. Call it pretentious, but if there’s a band that’s going to save music, it’s these four men. Touted as one of the best live acts in the world, the group performs epic, beautiful, emotional pieces with no vocals. To keep the discussion of post-rock as a genre to a minimum, let’s just say they are a fantastic band (and you probably have heard them without even knowing it -- they composed the score to the film "Friday Night Lights"). Excited couldn’t begin to describe how I felt as they walked on stage, especially as they opened with a brand new song on their completed but not yet titled release to come out in February 2007. It contained everything that the group excels at: a lot of melody in the opening into a blistering finale, a wall of sound from the guitars accompanied by pulsating drumming. Explosions also closed with a new song, and as the song ended, guitarist Munaf and two other members of Temporary Residence bands brought out snare drums and started beating them like mad at the climax of the set. “Memorial,” the slowest song on the group’s The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place, was showcased with a furious ending as the guitarists ended up almost smashing their guitars on the ground, spinning them through the air in utmost intensity, and “Greet Death” was played louder than most metal bands play, with the bassist strumming at a pace that was not perceived to be humanly possible. For such a pleasant sounding band on tape, their live sound is monstrous, and fits well with the epic nature of the music. Explosions in the Sky also fed off the crowd’s energy, getting more and more into their music as the crowd clapped, head-banged, and screamed in anticipation of the group’s more extreme parts (“The Only Moment We Were Alone” was the culmination of all of this). It was a cathartic set, certainly one to be remembered for many years to come. 10/10.
All pretension aside, Explosions in the Sky is a band that you need to see live before you die. Their six-song set was easily the best performance I’ve ever seen, and with three fine supporting acts, the Temporary Residence birthday party was a rousing success.