When the Salt Lake City Arts Council’s Casey Jarman announced the lineup for this year’s Twilight Concert Series, he noted that opening with a relatively unknown band like Explosions in the Sky might help in avoiding a repeat of the mayhem that accompanied the Modest Mouse season-starter a year ago.
We’ll have to wait and see if he’s correct, but it’s probably safe to predict that 30,000 or more folks will make their way to Pioneer Park Thursday night for one of Salt Lake City’s signature summertime attractions. And when they get there, those people should plan on having their faces melted off by one of the most dynamic and, yes, explosive live bands around.
For more than a decade, the quartet, based in Austin, Texas, has been creating intense and engaging sonic soundscapes largely free of vocals, and delivering songs that typically stretch to the 10-minute mark everywhere from rock clubs to massive festivals.
According to drummer Chris Hrasky, he and his bandmates (guitarists Michael James, Munaf Rayani and Mark T. Smith) used to shun large shows like this one. But they’ve come to both respect the challenge, and even enjoy playing them.
“They’re kind of weird, and they’re such a different environment,” Hrasky says in an interview from his Texas home. “But it’s interesting: I find we get less nervous when we’re playing for huge crowds. I’m not sure why that is. You just feel like, ‘Well, half the people probably aren’t paying any attention anyway.’ When you’re in a smaller venue and people are really focused on it, I feel a lot more nervous.
“And we’re hoping there will be a lot of people who maybe haven’t heard of us, so we can try to win them over. That’s sort of how we’ve been doing it for the past 12 years, playing live. That’s how we’ve built things.”
What they’ve built is a band with a sound that defies easy genre labels, with a rabid following that is just as diverse, ranging from math-rock geeks to indie-rock snobs to psych-rock aficionados. They’re revered in hipster circles; indie filmmaker Gregg Araki made one of his characters in his recent apocalyptic sex-and-drugs romp Kaboom an obsessive Explosions in the Sky fan. But most people have probably only heard them without knowing they were listening to Explosions in the Sky, via the soundtrack they composed for the Friday Night Lights feature film and the TV series of the same name that followed.
The band released their fifth studio album in April, and Take Care, Take Care, Take Care packs an amazing array of musical ideas into six songs. Granted, it helps when the songs average about eight minutes, but the band had worked up about 50 demos before whittling down to the tunes that appear on the album. The listening experience is akin to listening to classical, with multiple movements and moods appearing in each song, each of them seeming to build into something epic by the time they end.
Many make the mistake of thinking that just because Explosions in the Sky is an instrumental band, and one that genuinely rocks out onstage, that they’re simply making it up as they go along. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
“If we actually tried to make stuff up on the spot, it would be pretty terrible,” Hrasky says with a laugh. “It would be bad. We’re definitely not a jam-band. That’s not one of our strengths at all.
“It’s basically the songs themselves, that’s what we’re going to play. They come across very different live than they do on record a lot of times, a lot more frenzied. And there aren’t many interludes between songs; when we play, it’s just kind of one continuous song. We don’t stop between songs and banter or anything.”
That makes sense, since in the case of Explosions in the Sky, the instruments do all the talking.
EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY
w/ No Age
350 W. 300 South
Thursday, July 14, 7 p.m.