Live Music + Gig Reviews

Explosions In The Sky @ KOKO, London

1 March 2007

It is testament to the meteoric rise of record label Bella Union rather than Explosions In The Sky that tonight they are playing a gig to a sold out crowd. In the last year, after far more humble beginnings, releases from the likes of ozzie cinematic indie types Howling Bells and Texan country tinged geniuses Midlake, Bella Union are right up there in the “labels to watch to find the next indie gem” stakes.

So tonight is a clear mixture of those fans that have seen Explosions In the Sky in more modest surroundings and those who feel that maybe we are in for a resurgence of the instrumental post-rock that they provide.

The size of the venue and crowd reflects this, something of a surprise to the casual observer and least of all to the band themselves. Within minutes, they confess to having shaky hands and being in far more intimate surroundings the last time they swapped their Texan backwaters for a trip across the pond.

Which either means that tonight is going to be something spectacular, or a let down. Unfortunately, the evidence points to the latter. Explosions In The Sky can sit fairly comfortably with the likes of Godspeed You Black Emperor or Mogwai on record, with a hint of Sigur Ros or a hark back to the shoe gaze bands of the early 90s.

But, the draw of much of these peers was that their live show offered a visual and aural extravaganza: light shows, a variety of instruments and an almost unnerving ability to lift their game even higher under the spotlight.

Explosions In The Sky just can’t hit that mark. Much of the show, they do look at their shoes and it’s more play by numbers than anything else. Granted, they barely miss a note, but they rarely offer any incentive to do anything else but casually listen, which surely isn’t the point of a live show.

To make matters worse, due to the venue an element of their intensity is lost somewhere around the oversized disco ball in the Koko ceiling. And people are talking throughout the set as well – never a good sign when your are trying to work through the subtle nuances of a five minute tremolo picking breakdown.

They can salvage something from the fact that despite the fact they seem a little overdone here in Camden tonight, their recorded output is impressive enough to make tonight only a minor anti-climax. Opener First Breath After Coma swirls and builds from placid guitar notes into a military-drummed crescendo, while Greet Death shows us their brash white noise inducing quiet/loud formula to full effect.

But, as the set draws to a close, without the obligatory encore – the overall impression is one of what might have been. Explosions In The Sky offer glimpses of how they might have turned tonight into a colossal thunderstorm rather than a wet Tuesday afternoon, but venue and crowd aside, they’re clearly not quite there yet.

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