Ola Podrida was up first, delivering the crowd a tidy half-hour set of folky, countrified and occasionally jangly indie rock that was hard to peg. Sometimes guitarist/vocalist David Wingo reminded me of Jeff Mangum; other times the band sounded like the twang-flavored something something Sub Pop would deliver in recent times. There was a heavily balladic nature to the set that dragged it down a bit and it sort of lost my interest here and there because of it. The band picked it up by fluffing up the last song with a nice post-rock vibe. They had a pretty fair reaction.
I don't even know how to describe Lichens. It's the brainchild of one Robert Lowe and been tagged in various online reviews as abstract folk, drone, ambient and modern psychedelia. Here, Lowe sat in a chair and programmed several loops, added a few guitar chords, cooed and lightly wailed into the mic and it made up one long, subtly changing song that lasted 22 straight minutes. About midway through the set, he started to look like he was tripping balls, as he closed his eyes and an open-mouthed grin spread across his face. I was way up on the third level, but it also sort of looked like he started to eat something at one point. I would say it wasn't really for everyone, but he got some applause at seemingly random intervals and were given a big hand at set's end.
Though the sets were considerably shorter than the band's last tour, I think I preferred the tandem of the Paper Chase and Eluvium. Still, it was an interesting enough pair and the main event was next, anyway. By this point, the 3000-cap Terminal 5 was nearly filled. Looking down from the third level at the rows of patrons waiting excitedly and packing out the floor was a sight to behold.
After a pleasantly short changeover, the band walked onto the stage modestly at 9:19, picked up their instruments and Munaf Rayani thanked the crowd for coming. Then the band launched right into "First Breath After Coma" and it sounded perfectly crisp. While they didn't have the same mesmerizing light show as they did at Webster Hall, the chemistry and pitch-perfect playing made up for it. Later on, when they kicked into "The Birth and Death of the Day," the hard riffs and pulsating bass shook the building; you could feel the handrail on our level vibrate in your grip. Several songs -- and I'm afraid I can't quite name them all -- had fantastically explosive finishes.
No one could really doubt they'd exhibit it, but the general energy still pleased me well. It was good to see that the band clearly felt this music in their bones, and showed it when Rayani would rock his guitar beside his hips or drop down to his knees in desperation; when Mark Smith would fervently strum and pluck his chords; when the (sometimes) rhythm section of Michael James and Chris Hrasky would show considerable restraint in their methodical practice of keeping the pace.
The audience was considerably diverse and constantly receptive. For every pair of skinny jeans was a pair of cargo shorts; a towering, blonde mohawk that could be seen for miles around sat atop one front-end head-banger. During several songs, one fan pumped both fists in the air as if he was having a religious experience (at the end of the set, he embraced his group of friends, who warmly hugged each other with clenched eyes like they had just received their high school diplomas).
The set didn't seem to lean too heavily on their most recent, 2007's All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, as they never brought out a keyboard to replicate all the piano parts that pepper it. Therefore it seems like they drew from their expansive discography well; sure, it's from arguably their most popular album, but the set opener ("First Breath After Coma") derives from a five-year-old album.
Explosions in the Sky put on a mesmerizing and compelling set, as was to be expected. Those who even find their albums remotely solid would be well-advised to catch them live before they go on a rumored break of sorts.