Explosions in the Sky at Chicago Theatre | Photos and review
When it comes to penning gut-wrenchingly triumphant instrumentals, there are few groups more relentlessly proficient than Explosions in the Sky. The Austin, Texas quartet have slowly found a footing in the mainstream, thanks in no small part to their feedback-ridden guitar symphonies showing up in film trailers and soundtracks, most notably through their scoring of 2004's Friday Night Lights. Filling the sizable Chicago Theatre with their appropriately expansive compositions, the band seemingly tasked themselves with creating an auditory representation of the fireworks from which their name is derived.
Standing in stark contrast to their Temporary Residence labelmates were opening act Zammuto, the latest project from Nick Zammuto, formed in the wake of the sudden break-up of the Books. Instead of earnest six-stringed anthems, the group delivered a set of quirky, art-rock tunes accompanied by comical projections revolving around subjects as diverse as finger skateboards and zebra butts. "This is the autotune portion of the show," Zammuto accurately observed before delving into the robotic soul of "Too Late Topologize" and the frantic rhythms of "F U C-3PO," all overseen by his digitally manipulated vocals. A finale described as "the greatest autoharp solo of all time" found the group fleshing out a deftly edited autoharp instructional video in a rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Without straying far from the audio-visual synchronicity showcased during his tenure with the Books, Zammuto latest work continues to blend humor and musicianship in a fashion that is uniquely his own.
Entering to the flickering guitars of "Postcard From 1952," Explosions in the Sky quickly established an intensely focused ambience. "It's a pretty major honor to be in a room like this," guitarist Munaf Rayani remarked about their ornate surroundings—a considerable upgrade from the group's previous stops in the city. Characterized by rolling snares, crashing cymbals and reverb-drenched chords, the band strung together finely-tuned movements into eight-minute tracks, replete with jubilant crescendos and sweeping melodies. Embracing the theatrical setting, players ferociously attacked their instruments during the heavily distorted peaks of "Let Me Back In," backlit by glaring lights. Fueled by looped phrases and droning tones, more pensive entries such as "Human Qualities" cast the room into a meditative lull, punctuated only by the yells of some the group's more boisterous fans. For all their dynamic variation, there was something inherently fatiguing about the band's performance as it reached past the one-hour mark. When it comes down to it, there are only so many elated solos the average person can process. While Explosions in the Sky's varied setlist likely left fans satisfied, there was a certain spark missing from this particular showing which held it back from being truly incendiary.