It was a wet and windy Tuesday night of January 24th in Leeds, as Explosions In the Sky visited the city. The support came from six-piece band Lanterns On the Lake, who hail from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The band has been in existence for around five years, and is currently signed to the Bella Union label (same as Explosions). The band seemed genuinely surprised at the amount of people in the audience.
Lanterns slowly eased you into their sound, which is drawn from a palette of many colors that range from shuffling snare rolls; slide guitar volume swells and bowed guitars to emotional violin and ethereal vocals. There was a lot going on sonically on stage, but the band seem to be able to tastefully navigate and steer the songs in a natural direction, with sounds being used to heighten and embellish lyrical ideas and concepts. There seemed to be passages in the songs that build into an intense wall of noise that echo the early days of Sigur Ros (QRO live review). It’s these sections that illustrated why this band was suited to opening for an act such as Explosions In the Sky.
The audience seemed to take to the band very well indeed and one suspects that the group gained a few more fans as a result. Essentially the bones of these tracks could work in a folk acoustic mold, as this is maybe how they were first formed. The songs are certainly strong enough.
Stand out tracks included “Tricks” and “If I Have Been Unkind”.
But now entered the main act, Explosions In the Sky, The band take to the stage in a rather understated and humble manor. There is no stage gimmickry or fancy costumes; they are here to deliver what matters, the music. Guitarist Munaf Rayani asked the crowd to give a hand of well-deserved appreciation for the support band Lanterns On the Lake. There was a general sense of excitement in the audience that night. Explosions In the Sky have a devoted, loyal fan base, many of which were here tonight waiting in anticipation for their fix. From the audience view the band appear on stage left, Mark Smith in the centre, Michael James and Munaf Rayani on the right. Centre at the back on drums was Chris Hrasky. There was also an extra help of hands. The crowd that night varied from students to people in their late thirties, both male and female. Rayani kept the introduction short and sweet, “Hello, we are Explosions In the Sky. Here we go.”
The band began with slow brooding soundscapes that wash over the crowd, as tides of sound rise and fall and then slowly dissipate. The venue that night seemed to be the perfect size for this type of band and the sound carried well, reaching into the spaces. James played for most of the opening tunes with his eyes closed as Rayani gently swayed like a pendulum, at times moving in and out of sync with the rest of the band. Although there is no leader in the band it is Rayani’s presence on stage that seemed to come across the most, at times dragging and scratching his guitar on the stage floor in a Kurt Cobain/Thurston Moore fashion, looping the results of noise and feedback to segue into another song, leaving just the right amount of time to retune.
Tracks merged together, making it difficult to pin down one song from the next; the set was like a giant ocean of sound. For some bands of this nature it would be difficult to sustain the audience’s interest but Explosions In the Sky strength is in their ability to develop melody and excite emotion. Another great strength of the band is their awareness of space in the music, with Smith and Rayani weaving interlocking guitar melodies around James’ delicately constructed arpeggios and chord sequences. The band seemed very conscious not to let the sound get too cluttered, unless they need it to.
Looking out at the crowd it was a mixed bag of reactions – some people had their head down, purely listening to the music, while others were captivated by the band and the huge sound that was resonating from the speakers, urging them on to another crescendo of deafening noise. There is no doubt that the band has perfected the quiet/loud dynamic pioneered by bands like Slint. The set effortlessly shifted along with its beautiful harmonic and melodic movements of mini guitar symphony stirring different emotions in the crowd, held together by James’ arpeggios, and shuffling drums and single lead lines pushing the music to crescendos, only to breakdown and build again. The clarity in the guitar tone was uplifting at times, sounding like giant blocks of ice melting. The lighting at the venue was extremely in tune with the bands performance, adding to the atmosphere, the blue light tuning into the brittle cold mournful sounding pieces, and the intense reds synching with the colossal wall of sound and high-energy performance. The crowd seemed very satisfied.
Stand out tracks included “Your Hand in Mine”, “The Only Moment We Were Alone”, and “The Birth and Death of Day”.