With only a one-foot barrier in front of me, Webster Hall was suddenly a lot less smaller, and that would make a world of difference in getting to see Explosions in the Sky for the first time.
I was rather confident in my facts that Eluvium were both EITS' label- and post-rock mates, so when talk around me came up addressing how the "band" was just really one dude, I was a little confused. When that dude, Matthew Cooper, finally sat down silently to his laptop, keyboard, and guitar after a long 75 minutes after doors had opened, it made a little more sense. Cooper began his set with a droning number on the keyboard; it was rather ambient throughout, but with incredibly subtle crescendos as it wore down, with the bass of the sound flowing through the audience like a series of tidal waves -- almost cool and refreshing (if not incredibly jarring), but granted great relief once it passed through. The next song found Cooper locking into a pleasant, pre-recorded guitar loop, which he soon layered with a menacing guitar scowl -- it sounded like an ambulance doing donuts in the venue. The third and longest offering from Eluvium was definitely the standout; Cooper built a ridiculously methodical crescendo for well, well over 10 minutes. If you walked in at the end of the song it probably sounded a lot like straight noise, but had you been there for its entire construction it was a hell of a climax. Surprisingly, Eluvium played a few more after this, all varied and relatively solid, and it stretched out his set to a whopping 45 minutes. Keeping his apparent vow of silence, Cooper stood up at the end of the set, politely waved to the receptive audience and began to pack his things in. Trimming the fat a little certainly wouldn't have hurt but Eluvium definitely captivated me for the most part.
Ever since reading this review I've been meaning to check out the Paper Chase. In other words, this had been a moment a good three and a half years in the making -- and the Paper Chase did not disappoint. Straight put, they fucking killed it. I'd go so far as to say they nearly upstaged the headliners; frontman John Congleton was an absolute madman, making odd hand gestures to the audience appropriate to the lyrics and frantically convulsing for all the band's short bursts of guitar noise. Sometimes I think I'm bad at descriptions, and this might be one of those times, but work with me: Picture Travis Morrison having a seriously traumatic childhood, listening to the noisiest songs in Fugazi's catalog, and then forming the Dismemberment Plan; that's sort of what was at hand here. Whatever it was though, I loved it; Congleton sang in a slightly nasally tone like a demented John K. Samson, while he got lots of great show and support from his other members: the menacing presence of bassist / ZZ Top stand-in Bobby Weaver; solid drumming from Aryn Dalton; and an energetic, loose-moving style from keyboardist/vocalist Sean Kirkpatrick. They played for about 45 minutes too, but I'd hardly have minded another 15. All in all I was convinced to pick up at least one of their albums, which I did without pause.
Complemented by a punctual light show and a surprising amount of energy exuded by the band, Explosions in the Sky was mesmerizing. As expected, of course. Doubters might find problems with the band's song lengths and the fact that, well, they don't have a vocalist, but that didn't matter; it drew you in when the band built to their stunning summitts the same as it did when their more "active" material was played. In further describing the latter, that's a good way to elaborate on some of the songs from their new album, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone; it's more immediately gratifying, if that makes any sense to you, and definitely worked in the live setting, especially with how diverse it is. The drums are pounded with a shocking amount of harshness that speeds along the airy riffs; it's like drummer Christopher Hrasky is pushing clouds across the sky, and that's exactly what it felt like. The set was absolutely fluid, as the band seamlessly connected one song to another. The early moments from The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place assuredly stood out however, with the riffs ringing clearly and beautifully. For the climaxes the right stage guitarist actively swayed back and forth, the middle guy bobbed his head in time to the music keeping a closed-eyed stare in the direction of the ground, and to the left Munaf Rayani kept a cool gesture throughout. However, all were constantly fixated on their instruments and the effects pedals, consistently creating perfect noise and rarely missing a beat. That right stage guitarist was most out of his mind during the band's final, explosive chapter however; he violently stabbed the stage with a tambourine, yet kept it in time with the music; it gave the set a mind-numbing finish, with the band walking off stage to thunderous applause and vehement requests for one last song. That same man came out and thanked us kindly for our appreciation but announced that would be the end of the night, with the deceiving house lights having yet been turned on.
All in all, I think this show might have actually surpassed my expectations. If you actually have doubts seeing Explosions in the Sky, rest assured it's an intense experience, and even more so than on record. Plus, if you happen to get the Paper Chase on the bill too, bring a few reams, 'cause, wow.