Vietnam – Austin – The Mercury @ Jazz, TX – 2001-05-24

Where: Austin – The Mercury @ Jazz, TX.

When: 2001-05-24

Ah yes, another Explosions in the Sky show. I am telling you, these guys are going to take over the instrumental rock world before the year is over. I say this for two reasons: they play stunning songs and they are great guys. See, the Mercury is an 18+ venue, and my friend Walter is only 17. While in some places this means death, a few quick e-mails with the Explosions guys and all was squared away. I love it when a band is so helpful. Of course, it’s the music that’s most important…

Hence my problem with Vietnam. At first, the outlook was good. The quintet (two guitars, bass, drums, and a sax that was so low in the mix it might as well not have been there at all) unleashed a few waves of controlled feedback, getting my post-rock loving booty out of my chair. But then something strange occurred…the song morphed into a meandering mess resembling a distorted power ballad with lyrics ripped straight from the 60s and 70s. For the next 40 minutes (at least), Vietnam played one midtempo snoozer after another. By the time they finished, I was ready for bed.

Luckily for me, Experimental Aircraft decided to rock. Mixing the best of Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine with soothing female/male vocals, the band released layer upon layer of swooping, delayed guitar. And with driving bass and drum work, the songs flexed quite a bit of rhythmic muscle. Plus, the band brought its own light show. People all around the group used video and film projectors like spotlights, highlighting the members at all the right moments. Add in a few strobes lights and a bubble machine and you’ve got an impressive looking stage. Despite a few technical difficulties (the bass kept cutting out on the first few songs), the set ebbed and flowed quite well. Besides, E-bows always make me smile.

Next came the boys from Explosions, and once again they delivered the goods. The mix was excellent, and the band exploited it perfectly. The guitars chimed and intertwined flawlessly, and the drums and bass added great counter melodies. When “Greet Death” exploded into feedback, I could feel the tension in the air: the band was pushing the songs as far as they could go. After that initial blast, the group started toying with the crowd. Often, the songs would appear on the edge of destruction, only to fade back into soothing melodies. Here, the focus was on the incredible songs. This is what Christmas should sound like… jangling guitars and percussion blended. The next real catharsis didn’t develop until the end of the set, when the band built up to a most unusual climax featuring one of the guitar players smashing a tambourine onto the floor over and over. Trust me, this makes perfect sense when you hear the song.

Unfortunately, there was no encore despite popular demand (the band hadn’t practiced any other songs). Explosions are now out on tour. If they come near you, I IMPLORE you to go.