I’m not sure what exactly was in air last night at Grand Central besides Zammuto, Explosions in the Sky, and a few discrete kinds of sweet secondhand smoke, but for one reason or another the night took on something of a religious quality. There were lots of closed eyes and raised hands in the crowd, and if you looked around carefully enough, something else too.
All photos by Alex Broadwell (view full album on Facebook)
It had been a while since I had covered a show and I was a little nervous about that, my uncertain plus-one situation and also ton of ill-advised coffee I chugged before heading downtown. But suddenly my anxiety about trying to smuggle in my date was miraculously lifted after being gifted an extra ticket by a stranger. Strange.
Not long after, Nick Zammuto of the Books was preaching “Try getting off your ass / Try picking up an ax / Things are overgrowing and it’s time for ruthless cutting” in “Idiom Wind”, an odd, challenging song that despite itself came off as fun and seemed to speak to a just-arriving crowd who began to crowd around the stage pretty thick more than an hour before the headliners came out. Weird.
An act consciously making the transition from a record-oriented to a live-show band, Zammuto powered through 40 minutes to a rapt crowd who came for soaring, wordless mini-symphonies but nonetheless was totally into a wordy setlist full of unlikely time signatures and a chopped-and-screwed multimedia performance called “The Greatest Autoharp Solo of All Time”, which consists of the band trading fours with a heavily edited instructional YouTube video. Wonderful.
I wrote down “There is nothing to be anxious about,” but I couldn’t be sure because I couldn’t read it in the dark. I’d be fine. Zammuto was gradually settling me down, by turns distracting me with tricky lyrics and Sean Dixon’s dextrous, jazzy-as-hell drumming and making me laugh with the whimsicality of their entire getup: with a lot of onstage laughing and songs laden with offbeat musical jokes combined with a lot of earnest, skillful expression, they were sort of like a novelty band with really good chops. Improbably, I thought, everyone dug it.
After the openers said their goodbyes came Explosions In The Sky, bringing the Word without any lyrics.
They certainly didn’t pander to the local crowd, displaying a Texas flag on stage (EITS is from Austin) and opening their set with a little light crowd-trolling: “Who here thinks the Heat are going to win the Finals this year?” asked non-frontman frontman Munaf Rayani (though he does most of the talking, the band is committed to a leaderless format). Cheers and whoops. “Well I’ve got two words for you: Kevin Durant.” Jeers and brief outrage.
But it wasn’t long before the artists behind the score of 2004 high school football drama Friday Night Lights had everyone decisively on their side.
Throughout the show, EITS put the “Ambien” in ambient, lulling us into a true sense of security with their largely soft-verse, loud-chorus style, which is just as effective in their parlance as it was for the pioneers of that sound, the Pixies, Nirvana et al. The vibe was almost like that of a Christian hardcore show, relentlessly upbeat and characterized by a quivering energy. There was an air of the sublime leaking out all over the place. The players themselves reflected the mood of the crowd, sometimes sitting down and letting happy closed-eyed visuals run their course and sometimes breaking out the power moves, windmilling their guitars, and practically jumping out of the venue on some of the more dramatic climaxes, like that of “First Breath After Coma”.
These crescendo-mongers had the couples in close and others apparently feeling amorous too. Consider this clutch of text messages that someone sent to me about two-thirds of the way in:
dude next to me: You have such a nice body, I wanna be all over that
girl named Leila: Thanks.
dude: Too forward? Are you not in the mood? Sorry.
Leila: Don’t say sorry. It’s okay, I’ve just had a hard day and I’m mad at boys lately.
dude: Then ditch the boys and get a man.
I can’t say I ever felt as loose as that guy, but Explosions in the Sky did help me settle down and enjoy myself, and they made a room full of about 300 other people feel pretty good too. We left with a belief in the hope of a leaderless revolution, that the Permian Panthers can win State again, and that sometimes the best way to experience the almighty is in one another, sharing cigarettes with strangers and jumping up and down in the dark.