Rowing across the River Styx

Explosions in the Sky + the Paper Chase + Eluvium, Middle East Downstairs, March 21, 2007
By VICKI G. SIOLOS  |  March 22, 2007

A BOX OF CHOCOLATES: Explosions in theSky.

There’s something to be said about John Congelton’s lanky, spastic frontman theatrics when the Paper Chase snap into focus on stage. And the way bassist Bobby Weaver sways back and forth as if he were rowing a ship across the River Styx, and how Sean Kirkpatrick tenses his shoulders and fingers the keys as if he were impersonating Nosferatu. Bathed in red light, the set was a storm of spoken word, wailing vocals, and quiet whispers that all revolved around Congleton’s guitar and body language during the songs from their latest, Now You Are One Of Us. Evil, angular, and cacophonous, titles like “One Day He Went out for Milk and Never Came Home,” “…And All the Candy You Can Eat,” and “We Know Where You Sleep” pepper the tracklist. Straight-forward from the start, Congleton is a scrawny, bleach-blonde Nick Cave – possessed by the music, and interacting with the audience -- his audience -- through piercing stares and a pointed index finger. The Middle East Downstairs had been filled since Eluvium’s opening set, and the spine-chilling “At the Other End of the Leash” towards the end of the Paper Chase’s set might've brought the crowd to the borders of the sort of catharsis that everyone hopes for at a live show.

The short break before Explosions in the Sky was enough time to register the anticipation that hung in the air of the packed house. The applause was strong from the first moment the Austin-based quartet stepped on stage, and a sense of solidarity among the crowd lasted throughout the entire set. Explosions in the Sky have taken their all-instrumental songwriting to a higher level, writing what they’ve referred to as “cathartic mini-symphonies,” epic, tribal, and enormous. The audience was in awe, swaying to the rhythm with closed eyes or staring with their chins hung low. Whereas the Paper Chase’s live presence, like many bands, rests heavily on the members’ dispositions, Explosions in the Sky achieves an anonymity that even a Godspeed You! Black Emperor has never reached. If Weaver’s swaying aroused the imagery of rowing a ship through Hell, EITS were the paddles, thrashing about onstage to the swelling intervals as they weaved one song into another for a full hour.

They played most of 2003’s The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place, but fans showed familiarity with the month-old tracks from their latest, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone. And the crowd stayed put at the end, waiting patiently for an encore. “That was a pretty exhausting set,” said guitarist Munaf Rayani, when he came back out with a bag of chocolates. “That’s all we have for you, but they give us chocolates on our rider every night, so…here!” These humble characters were gracious and grateful -- it’s remarkable how they could create such grandiose and fearless music.

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  Topics: Live Reviews , Nick Cave
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