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Review of Explosions In The Sky supported by El May and Eluvium, 16 February 2008, Melbourne

If I had to describe last night's concert in just two words, they would be 'fantastic' and 'intense'. If you ever have the chance to see Explosions In The Sky, I would very strongly urge you to see them. I have never seen a band so intently pour themselves into their music. The opening acts, El May and Eluvium, were both also very good.

I arrived at the Corner Hotel not long before 8:30pm, when doors were to open. I should say that this is by far the smallest venue at which I have ever seen a concert - most of the bands I like who would only play a venue of that size simply haven't come to Australia, and what a far cry this was from seeing U2 at arenas and stadiums holding anywhere between 20,000 and 80,000 people in 2005-06. When we were let in, I was amazed to see that most people simply made for the merch stand or went to get drinks and I was free to just walk up to the stage and grab a spot in the front row. Quite by accident, I think I managed to score the best spot in the entire bloody room.

I hadn't even heard anything by El May before this evening. Hell, I didn't even know they were playing until the day beforehand, when I got my ticket printed. I suppose I shouldn't say 'they' - El May is really just Lara Meyerratken, originally from Sydney but now a resident of Brooklyn in the US. To play live, the band was fleshed out with Jason Lawrence on drums and a woman whose name I have unfortunately forgotten on bass. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, except perhaps something singer-songwritery. I was pretty much right on that account - nice, uptempo music that I really enjoyed. I thought she had a beautiful voice. Through most of her set, she played guitar, but one song she took keyboard duties. I liked one thing she did; she connected her iPod to the PA and did one song in a sort of karaoke style, I think more for her own amusement than anything.

She seemed to have a good sense of humour, really. She introduced the band by first names, then last names and remarked "I don't know why I'm telling you this" with a grin and proceeded to give their middle names too. Jason Lawrence's middle name is something ridiculous along the lines of "Beamus", which amused the crowd. She did well in the lead role, and I got into the set, tapping along on the stage with my hand and such. I believe this was her first concert in Australia and from my perspective, I think it went well. At the end, when she was packing up, I spoke to her and let her know that I'd really enjoyed her music and thought the performance was fantastic, and got a copy of the setlist from her as a memento.

Setlist for El May, 16 February 2008

I can expand on a few of the titles: the first track is I Remember, the fourth is Draining A Lake, and the fifth is Order In The Nothingness (the karaoke-style track). I purchased her EP after the show, and I feel that it is more mellow and piano-driven than her stage act, where the guitar was quite nicely prominent. She was definitely better live, which I always consider to be a good quality.

So, next was Eluvium, which is just Matthew Cooper, his guitar, keyboard, and laptop. If anybody truly lost themselves in music, it is without doubt him. He barely even acknowledged the crowd's presence - just brief waves upon taking and leaving the stage. He did not even have a microphone. He simply sat down on his stool and did his thing, which is summoning up incredible and evocative soundscapes. He would layer various guitar tracks on top of each other and treated the sound in all kinds of different ways until he had thoroughly immersed the room in beautiful noise. Well, all except for the only track whose title I actually remember, An Accidental Memory In The Case Of Death, which was just him on his keyboard. Unfortunately, his set was the only time when my spot was not ideal. The keyboard blocked my view of him playing a bit, and especially during the last two of the four songs he played, he sat facing away from me so I couldn't tell what he was doing with his guitar. At one point, though, I loved how he created the impression of thunderous drumming just by smacking his guitar with a wild intensity.

Then came Explosions. Holy shit. They were just insane. The band consists of Munaf Rayani and Mark Smith on guitar, Michael James sometimes on guitar and sometimes on bass, and Chris Hrasky on drums. I was between Munaf and Michael, though in such a small venue, there wasn't exactly any space between them. For someone with my poor vision, being this close was a revelation - previously, I've felt it was an achievement if I could simply identify band members, but last night, I could check out all of the pedals and other controls at Munaf and Michael's feet, I could count the frets on their guitars and watch precisely what they were playing, and just everything was right there in a way I haven't experienced before.

In a sentence, Explosions absolutely fucking destroyed Melbourne. They opened with First Breath After Coma, my favourite song of theirs, and from the very beginning, it was obvious we were in for one intense set. Munaf sways back and forth, stepping from side and to side with a long stride, and has enough energy for about three bands contained inside him alone. Michael nods in time with the music, and on more than a couple of occasions we made eye contact and nodded along together. They played for roughly eighty minutes and I'm sure that if somebody unfamiliar with Explosions were there and you told them that just one big long song had been played, they would have believed you. All of the songs were intertwined seamlessly, flowing into one another without a pause for the entire time. The band never took a breath, especially not Munaf, who at various points played his guitar with a pen, taped his guitar to the floor of the stage and played it with a slide, furiously played on a little drum in one song (I forget which), and leapt around smashing a tambourine on the stage. He was so vigorous with it that I just about thought it was going to break into tiny pieces.

I cannot tell you exactly what they played. The two I remember the most distinctly are First Breath After Coma and The Only Moment We Were Alone, both of which were absolutely stunning. My favourite passage of The Only Moment was even more gorgeous and beautiful in the live setting. It's kind of hard to listen to their studio material now, just because everything they did live was on absolutely another level entirely. According to a posting elsewhere, they played:

First Breath After Coma
Welcome, Ghosts
Greet Death
Your Hand In Mine
The Moon Is Down
Catastrophe And The Cure
The Only Moment We Were Alone

I honestly cannot say just how much in order that is, and my memory is telling me they also did Yasmin The Light and The Birth And Death Of The Day. I'm not 100% sure on that, but certainly the above set is too short - it works out to 67 minutes, and they played for about 80; adding Yasmin and The Birth And Death brings things to 82 minutes. What I found interesting is that they didn't do an encore; I already knew beforehand that they don't do that, but it's still a bold and unusual thing to actually see. Munaf simply came out and explained that they throw every bit of energy into their main set, and the crowd was very understanding. Personally, I think an encore would have almost ruined things. As everything was played together as one huge experience, playing a final song in isolation would have just felt wrong.

Ultimately, I experienced their concert in the same way as I experience their albums - not as separate songs that I can name perfectly in order, but as one big piece to be savoured. And oh hell yes, I savoured that. Everything was just focused on the music - the lighting was basic, the only decoration on stage was the flag of their native Texas draped over Munaf's amp, and they just tore the place up with unparalleled dedication. Undoubtedly one of the best live shows I've ever seen.
Tags: concerts, el may, eluvium, explosions in the sky, music, setlists

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