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An Instrumental Soundtrack to a Movie That Doesn’t Exist

July 1st, 2009

Explosions in the Sky – SummerStage – June 30, 2009

Explosions in the SkyHow do four unassuming guys from Austin, Texas, sell out the Central Park SummerStage? By letting the music speak for itself. This was the perfect venue for Explosions in the Sky’s 10th anniversary—open to the sky, the epic instrumentation echoing the dramatic landscape of towering buildings surrounding the park as the sun went down and the light faded.

This is not a conventional group. They have a deliberate anti-star image. Without a real frontman, you’re left to approach the band as a whole entity. No one is introducing the songs, no one is getting the crowd going. There’s no typical stage show, aside from watching guitarist Munaf Rayani sway, back to the crowd, in his own world. Yet last night the entire audience spontaneously reacted to every rise and fall in rhythm with cheers, even clapping along to the song “Catastrophe and the Cure” as they realized it was all coming to an end.

Since the beginning of their career, Explosions in the Sky have defied the conventions of song structure in a surprisingly accessible way, as the turnout of 5,000 fans attested. The music is all about the timing, allowing for space, letting everything breathe, forgetting about the prescribed standards of pop-music length. As the music is instrumental, it’s not about the individual songs—this is meant to be experienced as an entire movement, not unlike a symphony: all at once, uninterrupted, alternating between delicate melodies and erupting passages. It’s a soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist.

Contrary to another live-rock custom, they don’t play an encore at the slightest provocation. Last night was no exception. When they ended the set with “The Only Moment We’re Alone,” they gave it everything, throwing themselves into the massive soaring guitars. There’s nothing left but the ringing in your ears. —Jason Dean