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Concert review: Explosions in the Sky quiets its Las Vegas crowd

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Explosions in the Sky, performing Sunday night at Brooklyn Bowl.
Photo: Erik Kabik

Four stars

Explosions in the Sky August 28, Brooklyn Bowl.

A reviewer has his work cut out for him when it comes to an Explosions in the Sky concert. Unless you’re proficient with its catalog, distinguishing between the Austin quintet’s instrumental songs can be difficult, and even after you’ve acquired the setlist, you must still match up those titles (and their recordings) to your frantic and imprecise notetaking and descriptions of the band’s myriad sounds and movements with nary a lyrical identifier.

One of EITS’ defining characteristics and creative assets is its rejection of the traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus pop musical structure. Its long and dramatic works are more like symphonic pieces, with complex narrative arcs, instrumental explorations, interlocking arpeggios, emotional bursts and sudden rhythmic shifts. Scribbling all that operatic clangor for 90 minutes is almost exhaustive.

But to take it in—aurally, visually, emotionally—is one of rock’s great live experiences. And EITS finally treated Las Vegas to an unedited version, its first headlining local show on Sunday doubling the length and scope of its opening set for Nine Inch Nails nearly three years ago. And what a year to do so. The Wilderness, released in early spring, represents something of an aesthetic shift for the act, which relied less on its firmly established loud/soft, guitar-driven post rock, now broken up by subtler instrumental portions and enhanced by occasional synth melodies, effects and loops. No longer can the band members cruise on intuition; they must juggle new machinery and gizmos within the mix, beyond even the mad-scientist mix of delay and reverb pedals of the past. And the results—a nearly unpredictable and seamless patchwork of passages, swells and clarion guitar arias, both new and old—make it worth both their while and ours.

EITS played five Wilderness tracks, tackling the title cut early with its meditative synth repetitions and spatial, echoed riffing, and saving the ghostly “Disintegration Anxiety” until nearly the end, touring keyboardist/bassist Carlos Torres playing the keys as if inside the womb until his bandmates surge forth with skittering guitar notes. The sturm und drang of “Logic of a Dream” transitions brilliantly to the baptismal “The Birth and Death of the Day.” The Doomsday basslines, wailing ambience and what sounds like crashing metal sheets give way to glorious drum charges and ecstatic six-stringed melodies on “Colors in Space”—which turned out to be an ideal setup for the melancholic, slow-build anthemry of “Your Hand in Mine,” EITS’ most famous (and licensed) song, which soared chiefly due to guitarists Michael James and Mark Smith, as well as Brooklyn Bowl’s flawless, just-loud-enough sound system.

As if the band’s atmospheric tenor wasn’t enough, the ambiance was further set by the stage production, the substantial eminence of fog augmenting the long, horizontal row of 100 or so mini-spotlights in front of the band, programmed to create opaque screens in numerous sequences and color schemes. Bigger lights elsewhere on the stage often enveloped the band in intense or highly evocative light, from stormy blues and greens to fiery oranges and reds. Like the sound, its effect never overwhelmed.

There are few scenarios more embarrassing than a highly regarded, infrequently visiting band putting on a kickass show in front of a thin audience. This wasn’t the case Sunday night, as the entire sunken GA floor was fully (if comfortably) occupied, with crowds surrounding them from the bar level and against the upper-floor railings. (The attendance for Kurt Vile’s August 15 show at the same venue was more modest in comparison.) Not only did Vegas represent, it largely kept its collective gob shut during the quieter moments—save for the occasional yammering from drunken bowlers—and roared during the few times EITS didn’t segue from one song to another, which wasn’t lost on the band. “We’re very, very glad we came,” guitarist Munaf Rayani said with a smile, right before the band ended its encore-less tour de force.

Local act Rusty Maples might not have been a stylistic match to EITS, but 1. Las Vegas is short on post-rock bands and 2. The quartet nonetheless pulled off a superb 45-minute set that highlighted its strengths: crunchy, throwback rock exposing guitar-based influences; endearing melodies too good for radio; an attuned, versatile and in-the-pocket rhythm section; and frontman Blair Dewane’s alternatively sharp-witted and goofy banter. This particular performance revealed more nuance and dynamics than previous showings I attended—more moments where they’d musically slow down or stretch out, or build an intro or toward a climax. This was especially the case in closer “Mausoleums,” perfectly setting up the headliner, who praised its opener as soon as it took to the stage. Those EITS guys do everything right.

Setlist:

"First Breath After Coma"

"Wilderness"

"The Only Moment We Were Alone"

"Catastrophe and the Cure"

"The Ecstatics"

"Greet Death"

"Logic of a Dream"

"The Birth and Death of the Day"

"With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept"

"Colors in Space"

"Your Hand in Mine"

"Disintegration Anxiety"

"The Moon Is Down"

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Mike Prevatt turned his passion for rock 'n' roll and dance beats into an actual job during his stint as ...

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