Over the Weekend: Explosions in the Sky, Burning Hotels at the Winspear Opera House

Explosions in the Sky, Burning Hotels
Winspear Opera House
October 28, 2011

Better than: living in Odessa

When they attempted to perform at the outdoor Strauss Square in Dallas last month, the persistent rain prevented Explosions in the Sky from playing. To prevent any recurrence, Friday night's show was moved inside the Winspear Opera House. Still, the Austin-based instrumental post-rock outfit had to compete with an audience's attention again on this night.

Seems the Texas Rangers' were in some sort of bid for World Series glory.

As such, fans of the team and the band had to make a quasi-Sophie's Choice between 9 p.m. and 10:30. As the Rangers' hopes were dashed inning by inning, the Austin-based outfit delivered an absolutely delightful set.

The four-piece -- joined on bass, piano and percussion by Carlos Torres (a longtime friend of the band and roadie) -- simply did what they've done so well for the past 10 years: They didn't play anything safe, and they kept a mostly filled venue seduced.

Opening with "The Only Moment We Were Alone" from The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, there were a few brief stops in their jaunt. Absent from the set list were the well-loved "Memorial" and "Your Hand in Mine," and, sure, certain fans could bitch about this decision. But, as far as flow to the set, it was the right blend of total silence and total violence.

From conjuring feelings of standing in a barren field in the middle of nowhere to being swept away at sea, the band also made the audience feel like the earth was moving every once in a while. Then, as "Greet Death" kicked in, there was a thirsty bloodlust with dirty, piercing guitar leads and thick drumbeats.

Saving the best climax for the final 20 minutes, "The Birth and Death of the Day" screamed as hot white lights shot straight into the audience's eyes. After finishing with "The Moon is Down," an apropos closer, guitarist Munaf Rayani then thanked the audience and the band left the stage.

Performance-wise, the band acted like they were absolutely free. As much as they are nice and humble people, when they're locked into playing together, the demons come out. Chris Hrasky pulverized the skins on his kit. Rayani, along with Michael James and Mark Smith, gently swayed during softer segments. But when it was time to unleash, there was no hesitation. During "Greet Death," Rayani bounced his guitar on the floor and scooped it around like he was digging a grave -- all while James attacked his bass with full strums, unleashing a flurry of haymakers in the process.

"Is this for real?" asked Chance Morgan of Burning Hotels before his Fort Worth quartet began their opening set a few minutes after 8 o'clock. Looking out into the Winspear's multi-level layout, there indeed was a sense of wonderment.

With 10 songs in 45 minutes, the opening band focused on their newer material from this year's Burning Hotels. Though there was nothing wrong with the band's performance, their sound felt diminutive as compared to when the band has played venues like Trees and Dada in the recent past. Plus, given the dance-inducing nature of the band's material, the seated audience was constricted in pure enjoyment.

(Morgan wisely encouraged the audience to stand during the final two songs.)

Critic's Notebook
Personal bias: This was my first time to see Explosions in the Sky and my first time in the Winspear. I would have enjoyed the performance more if it weren't for a couple that stood in front of the soundboard area for the entire fucking set. Not realizing there was a sizable chunk of the floor seating area behind them, there was plenty of neck-craning by me and those around me. Whether or not these people were simply oblivious or just total assholes, it was frustrating to get a full view when everyone else in the venue was seated. Major Concert Foul.

By the way: Between almost every song during Burning Hotels' set, there was a shout-a-long of "Let's Go Rangers!"

Random note: The staff at the venue was incredibly friendly and helpful -- and not in a fake way. They were so nice, I wondered if I was going to be offered apple pie and a glass of milk before the show started.

Explosions in the Sky's set list:
"The Only Moment We Were Alone"
"Human Qualities"
"Catastrophe and the Cure"
"Postcard from 1952"
"Greet Death"
"Six Days at the Bottom of the Ocean"
"Let Me Back In"
"The Birth and Death of the Day"
"The Moon is Down"

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