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Songs make message clear, even without words

By Luke O’Neil
Globe Correspondent / October 6, 2011

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EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY At: The Orpheum Theatre;

last night

Genre-tagging is a necessary shorthand evil. You’d typically refer to the Texas band Explosions in the Sky, who performed at The Orpheum Theatre last night, as post-rock and call it a day. More interesting is how the “emo’’ qualifier has followed the band around for its 12-plus years. Granted, no one knows what that means anymore, but in this case it’s oddly apt.

As an instrumental group, it’s surprising just how deft they are at seizing listeners by the heart with their visceral, body-rending guitar quests of emotional catharsis without any lyrical content to latch onto. The silence amid the noise is disquieting.

You might call the four piece band’s style of performing shoe-gaze, as well, with the elaborate pedal-fiddling and feedback manipulation necessary, although star-gazing would better serve, as its set of sprawling, but precisely composed, heavenly rock symphonies illustrated.

“Last Known Surroundings’’ began in the abyss, with the guitar echoes affecting a leviathan’s mating cry while martial drums tapped out a call to arms above. The interlocking loops of upper register, delayed-guitar figures swirled through the earthly mire before rocketing the proceedings to a triumphant, roiling crescendo.

Songs like that, and “Postcard From 1952,’’ contained multitudes, not only in the world-building, and world-destroying imagery they evoked, but also in the more concrete realm of musicality.

The average song, clocking in around 10 minutes, loped through various time signatures, a rainbow of guitar tones, and enough dynamic shifts that even the most contemplative, delicate passages kept the audience tensed for the impending release of crashing cymbals and guitar artillery.

Case in point: “The Birth and Death of the Day,’’ a song that sounded like the cosmos in flux with its celestial, ascending guitars and tectonic bass blasts like godly war horns.

It was the soundtrack to a sped-up, time-delay reel of grass growing, trees blooming, winter descending, animals decaying. In the song’s later passages, the band affected the sound of hurtling comets crashing to earth, which sounded uncommonly like explosions in the near sky.

Luke O’Neil can be reached at

EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY At: The Orpheum Theatre;

last night