Indie veterans Explosions in the Sky and Future Islands shared a rare twin-billing at San Diego State’s serene outdoor venue.
A calm, quietly exuberant crowd filed into Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre on Sunday replete with fans young and old. These kind, music-loving folks enjoyed both the atmospheric grandeur of Explosions in the Sky and the feverishly danceable sound of Future Islands. The evening boasted a rare twin-bill of indie darlings with plenty of experience and creative triumph behind them, utter masters of their craft.
Explosions in the Sky made a bold statement with their note-perfect opening set. With a reputation for creating seismic instrumental anthems with climaxes big enough to reach even the most reserved listener, they brought a light and sound experience honed over years perfecting their immersive show on the road.
The experience of hearing each of their rich and detailed arrangements fade into another created a full-blown emotional narrative, with a stirring interplay between members and a striking emphasis on dynamics. Both new material from last year’s The Wilderness and enduring older favorites like “The Birth and Death of the Day,” and “Your Hand in Mine” showed tremendous dexterity, as I found myself quickly lost in the sonic world they’d created.
These five consummate musicians each played a part in calling up some deep and dormant emotions in each member of the growing crowd, doing what they do best by transporting the swooning mass, projecting their sound skyward.
Future Islands satisfied on all levels with a stark, minimalist stage setup and plenty of lovely, transcendent synth-pop tunes to go around. The band opted for a more dance-heavy show than Explosions, creating a natural foil but also demonstrating the kind of patience and playful restraint befitting of a band who truly trusts their material. Career-defining hit “Seasons (Waiting on You)” was only brought out deep into the set, proving that this outfit needs little more than their cult legend of a frontman, Samuel T. Herring, and some seriously polished grooves to draw people in. They make showmanship and ceaseless dedication look simple.
In addition to putting on an exuberant live show, the band had a clear intent in mind; bringing folks together in a time of cultural transition and political strife with the mediating force of music. In between songs, Herring implored for peace and understanding, letting himself go to the point of embodying his own higher truth in the course of each song. Fans who stuck around for the encore were given a rousing version of “Tin Man” which saw Herring step out and truly become his broken and disheveled character before “Vireo’s Eye” cast a magic spell of forgiveness, creating a fitting send-off for a band that truly deserves every comfort of success. The truly best moments of the set saw each member of the band getting lost in their expressive, powerfully nostalgic melodies.