Explosions in the Sky is possibly my favorite band in the world right now. The first song of theirs that I ever heard was â€œYour Hand in Mine,â€ which I discovered on an archived podcast of a show on Barnard College Radio. Counting Monday, Iâ€™ve seen them play live three times so far. The first time was an unforgettable performance at the El Rey, just up the street from me here on the Miracle Mile. The second was a bit of a disappointment at the Epicentre down in San Diego, where the low ceiling and heavily sedated crowd robbed the experience of any sense of spectacle. Iâ€™d been looking forward to the Wiltern show for months.
And yet, when it arrived, I found myself having trouble paying attention to the four boys from Austin. Despite their characteristically dramatic performance, where they end up crouching and often practically collapsing on stage from emotional overload. Despite the new lighting design that makes their lush soundscapes even more overwhelming. Why? Well, you try standing within spitting distance (not that youâ€™d ever spit in front of her) of this woman and see how well you can concentrate on anything other than the fact that the most physically beautiful person you will ever see in your entire lifetime is standing literally six feet away from you.
What about the show? Well, Iâ€™ll do my best. As is to be expected at an Explosions show, the venue was packed, and the space near the stage had long since been filled. The last time I went to the Wiltern to see The National, our tickets were for the balcony; tonight we were packed onto the floor and were forced to find space in a section near the sound boards â€“ which is of course just a step down from the sections that are reserved for VIPâ€™s. The view from the balcony is betterâ€¦sort of.
The performance opened with â€œFirst Breath After Coma,â€ the first minute or so of which consists of Chris Hraskyâ€™s bass drum thumping alone, like a heartbeat. Aside from being thematically ideal for the start of a concert, it also gives an audience the chance to wind their conversations down and focus on the music. This is particularly important in a city like L.A.,where the ability to feign disinterest is practically something you list on your resume. They followed with my current favorite, “Yasmin the Light.” The brushstrokes of Mark Smith and Musaf Rayaniâ€™s guitars in the final section captivate me every single time I hear it.
From this point on, and I feel terrible to admit it, I was just too damned distracted to keep track of which songs they played. I can say with certainty they played a couple of new songs that I hadnâ€™t heard before. I think they played â€œSix Days at the Bottom of the Ocean.â€ They didnâ€™t play “Welcome Ghosts,” or “Your Hand in Mine,” or “The Only Moment We Were Alone” (which is typically a show-closer). They closed with â€œMemorial,â€ which ends with Mark, Musaf, and bassist Michael James sawing away at their instruments recklessly, broken strings be damned.
The biggest difference between the Wiltern show and others Iâ€™ve seen in the past is that the lighting design is now first-rate. It was perfectly adequate in the past, but these days it rivals something youâ€™d see at a Phish concert (bitch all you want about Phishâ€™s music, but if you try to deny that their lighting guy Chris Kuroda was anything less than brilliant, youâ€™re being intellectually dishonest).
After â€œMemorial,â€ the lights came up and everyone cleared out. The crowd didnâ€™t bother to chant for more, because with this band it never happens. When theyâ€™re done, theyâ€™re done, and itâ€™s time to go home and try to unwind. The closest thing to an encore Iâ€™ve ever seen is for Musaf to come out and throw some of the chocolates they request on their rider out into the crowd. Maybe this suggests that their music is like a brilliant film that leaves you thinking for the next few days, but it seems like I enjoy Explosions in the Sky concerts even more in retrospect. This is truly an incredible band.
Of the Friday Night Lights crowd, there were only two that we recognized â€“ Minka Kelly and the series’ creator, Peter Berg. Sorry, ladies, no Riggins, although there was someone in their entourage who was sporting a similar haircut. At some point someone (it might have been Berg himself) yelled â€œGo Panthers!â€ And of course, Iâ€™m sure youâ€™re wondering: Did he muster up the courage to speak to Minka? With sufficient prodding, I certainly did.
What might have been:
ZD: Hey, does the band know you guys are here?
MK: Yeah. We talked to them a bit before the show. Do you know them?
ZD: Nope. I had a chance to talk to them in San Diego but I was too nervous (and yet here I am talking to Minka Kelly). Whereâ€™s the guy that plays Landry? I figure heâ€™d love my shirt (proudly displays Oâ€™Bama t-shirt).
MK: (laughs) Thatâ€™s cute. They did that for St. Patrickâ€™s Day?
ZD: Yeah. How come youâ€™re not wearing any green?
ZD: (Moves to pinch, hesitates) Wait, thereâ€™s no security guard about to hit me with a Taser as soon as I get too close to you, is there?
MK: I wonâ€™t say. Youâ€™ll have to take your chances.[Flirtation continues, MK imparts insider knowledge on the future of Friday Night Lights]
What really happened:
ZD: Hey, does the band know you guys are here?
MK: (politely) Yeah.[Everyone goes home.]
Ah Minka, must we keep playing these silly games?