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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Explosions in My Ears

I like to think I have acceptable taste in music. My music collection is fairly eclectic, though fully devoid of works from Biggie or Sean Puffy/Puff Daddy/P.Diddy Combs. I am open to listening to new music and, if ticket prices are reasonable, I am also open to seeing a band that I have never heard of before. Several weeks ago, Jonny asked me to go see 'Explosions in the Sky' perform at the Horseshoe Tavern. I trust Jon's taste in music -- he is doing a Masters in musicology, afterall -- so I decided to give it a shot.

The Horseshoe Tavern is steeped in rich Canadian music history, having hosted almost every big act in Canada at some point in their careers. The live music room inside this venue has a posted maximum occupancy of roughly 250 people but this appeared to merely have been a suggestion from the fire department. The actual maximum occupancy number is more likely to be about 300 to 400 people depending on how many people can be crammed into the room.

Before the opening act came on, Jon asked me where I would like to stand to take in the performance. Being ever so naive and trusting, I told him I would be happy to follow his lead and stand where he stood. It really wasn't so bad standing at the front row right next to the amplifiers and massive speakers at first. The opening act -- a British group calling themselves Adem -- did a very mellow set that was very reminiscent of some of Cold Play's works. The lead singer even warned the audience that they were using very quiet instuments and hoped that everyone would be able to hear in the back. "Boy", I thought, "Jon sure is smart to have us stand so close to the front".

As Adem left the stage and 'Explosions' was setting up for their act, Jon told me I would like the 'Explosions' because they were all instumental. Not really understanding what instrumental meant, I pictured Eric Clapton playing an acoustic guitar on MTV Unplugged, singing Layla in a whisper quiet voice. I pushed forward a bit closer to the stage so that I could get to hear every last nuanced note. In hindsight, seeing the performers plug thick wires into the amps and hooking up 4 or 5 different effects pedals should have clued me in to the fact that instrumental and accoustic mean completely different things, but at the time rushing to the front still seemed like the wise thing to do.

'Explosions' started off gently, causing the audience to gently sway their heads as if being lulled to some sort of peaceful slumber. But just before everyone reached Nirvana, these guys pulled out all the stops and let off an aural assualt so loud I thought my ears would bleed. For a good 5 minute stretch the noise level hovered around 130 decibels (I know this because 130 is the pain threshold for the human ear and my ears HURT like @$#% for those five minutes). This was followed by a painful, high pitched guitar solo interlude for about a minute before the decibels were back at 130. It quickly became apparent that standing 4 feet away from the speakers was neither a smart nor healthy thing to do.

As I covered my ears and cowardly ducked my head to protect myself from the auditory thrashing of my life, I saw with amazement the rest of the audience (Jonny included) bob their heads, blissfully unaware that they would likely be deaf before hitting their 30th birthdays.

I would have been happy to have covered my ears and cowered my way through the entire performance if I didn't have to watch over my shoulder for a drunk 'fan' who was getting into a shoving fest with some other members of the audience. Eventually, he started convulsing to the music and knocked over a girl standing immediately to my right, before receiving the beating of a lifetime from the audience and the bouncer who roughly escorted him off the premises...when he sobers up he'll have some bruises, but at least he'll still have his hearing, which is more than I could say for the rest of us there last night.

When the music faded (actually it just stopped abruptly when the lead guitarist threw down his guitar to signal they were done), my ears felt really warm and there was a noticeable ringing sound in both of my ears. If I ever go to another 'instrumental' performance, I'll be sure to stand way in the back with earplugs snuggly in ears.

So if you like pain and you enjoy putting your ears right up to the pain threshold, go see 'Explosions in the Sky' live. If you want to hear for more than five or six years, buy their CD and listen to them at a safe volumn in the comfort of your own home, free of drunk punks and sweaty people in close proximity to each other. If you really want to reproduce the effect of seeing 'Explosions' live, cram into a crowded subway train during rush hour and crank up your iPod until your ears hurt. Then bob your head back and forth with your eyes closed while you start pushing and shoving the other passengers. For added authenticity, drink five or six beers before you board the train.

Your Favorite Jerk


At Wednesday, October 20, 2004 6:47:00 PM, Blogger arts_guy said...

Way you know Johny! I know Johny! He's got mad good taste in music1

At Sunday, October 24, 2004 4:08:00 PM, Blogger Flami said...

That should teach you to never listen to my brother when he's at those kinds of concerts! ;)


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