Well, Nashville, this may be it. With temperatures projected to rise to peaks of 108 degrees this weekend, we may not survive this heatwave. But if we have to spontaneously combust this weekend (and we do), we could hardly ask for a better send-off than seeing Explosions in the Sky play their first ever show in Nashville Wednesday evening at the Ryman. Even if we had to suffer through Zammuto to get to them.
As far as we can tell, opener Zammuto is the new thing by the guy from The Books, a band we dimly recall pretending to understand in high school in an ultimately failed attempt to impress girls who liked Belle and Sebastian and read Ghost World. Not unlike those of their predecessors, Zammuto's songs are defiantly progressive, filled with glitchy electro-twiddling and drone-drenched guitars. The key difference between the two bands is that, while The Books sounded a lot like listening to a shortwave radio at the end of the world, Zammuto actually sounds like a band. The problem is that band is incredibly boring.
As cleverly warped as Zammuto's songs are on the LP, their real-life counterparts sound more like jam-band Frank Zappa distilled through a Primus record, and there is no part of that sentence that doesn't cause us to recoil. We tried to distract ourselves with the projector on stage, but the visuals made us feel like we had been tricked into a Tim & Eric sketch. Why are there videos of finger skateboarding and zebra asses on screen? Were we being trolled? What was the headphones-wearing bass player really bumping on this things? (Our guess is Drake, but it always is.)
We lost interest in Zammuto quick — which is a shame, because their record is actually kinda good — and abandoned our seat to grab a $9 beer in anticipation of the main event.
The last time we tried to catch Explosions in the Sky at the Ryman, they were slated to open for Smashing Pumpkins during the latter's 2007 reunion tour. When the date was rescheduled due to Jimmy Chamberlain's heart troubles, EITS dropped off the bill and we were stuck being all “Homer Simpson, Smiling Politely” during an awkward alterna-rock set delivered by Billy Corgan (sans cape, thank god), without the excuse of “well, at least we got to see a righteous post-rock set” to make ourselves feel better about buying tickets.
Five years of anticipation is a hell of a thing, but Explosions in the Sky rose to the occasion admirably. From the opening chord of “First Breath After Coma” to the decrescendo of “The Only Moment We Were Alone,” we were utterly transfixed. As often as rock bands don't work at the Ryman (and we've seen plenty of great indie rockers flounder on stage there), watching Explosions in the Sky felt like being at the symphony. The temptation to dip into jam bandery must be pretty high in instrumental music, but to their credit, EITS played their set completely by the numbers. Not once did they stray into self-indulgent soloing, and we're eternally thankful for that.
The only problem was that, frankly, Explosions in the Sky isn't exactly the most interesting band to look at. Tightly clustered together — as if they were playing a show in the corner of FooBar — Explosions had the sparsest stage presentation we've ever seen for a headliner at the Ryman. One can only assume that it's a statement about their identity as a band — and their possible hatred for having their name in 17-foot-tall lights like Morrissey did that one time — but, damn dudes. For a band as cinematic as Explosions in the Sky, it's surprising they don't do something visual. You don't have to bring along a film projectionist like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but you could at least Netflix an episode of Friday Night Lights or something.
For what the band lacked in visual excitement, the crowd made up for it in waging the eternal “rock show at the Ryman” battle for the entire show. As Explosions came on stage, our neighbor — himself a member of a prominent local post-rock band — began to ask if we can stand, gesturing to a group of people standers in a nearby row, before being shut down mid-sentence by someone yelling “SIT THE FUCK DOWN!” from the back of the room. Most of the standers complied ... except for one. One dude, who looked like he and Explosions bassist Michael James had been separated at birth, stood for most of the show, rocking the fuck out in total defiance of the complainers in the back. Later on, during “Let Me Back In,” a blond woman next to our hero stood up as well, flipping the double bird to protesters. These are our favorite people on the planet. They weren't obnoxious or sloppy, they just wanted to enjoy this crazy-loud spectacle like you're supposed to — standing up, pumping your fist, banging your head. If you can't respect that, we heartily recommend that you stop going to shows. We'll all be much happier that way.
After nine songs, clocking in at just under an hour and 15 minutes, Explosions in the Sky bade farewell and sent us home earlier than we're accustomed to. As much as we would've liked an encore, we get it. This is a band that is so dependent on momentum that it would probably be more trouble than it's worth to come back out. But, still. After playing four songs off The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place, couldn't they have rounded it out with the fifth? We were so close! Ah well, next time, dudes.