Well, with temperatures peaking around 108 degrees, we weren't sure we'd survive the weekend. But if we were going to spontaneously combust, we could hardly ask for a better send-off than Explosions in the Sky's inaugural Nashville show last Wednesday evening at the Ryman. Even if we had to suffer through Zammuto to get to them.
As far as we can tell, opener Zammuto is the new thing by the guy from The Books, a band we dimly recall pretending to understand in high school in an ultimately failed attempt to impress girls who liked Belle and Sebastian and read Ghost World. Not unlike those of their predecessors, Zammuto's songs are defiantly progressive, filled with glitchy electro-twiddling and drone-drenched guitars. The key difference between the two bands is that while The Books sounded a lot like listening to a shortwave radio at the end of the world, Zammuto actually sounds like a band. The problem is that band is incredibly boring. As cleverly warped as Zammuto's songs are on record, their real-life counterparts sound more like jam-band Frank Zappa distilled through a Primus record, and there is no part of that sentence that doesn't cause us to recoil. We tried to distract ourselves with the projector onstage, but the visuals made us feel like we had been tricked into a Tim and Eric sketch.
The last time we tried to catch Explosions in the Sky at the Ryman, they were slated to open for Smashing Pumpkins during the latter's 2007 reunion tour. When the date was rescheduled due to Jimmy Chamberlain's heart troubles, EITS dropped off the bill and we were stuck with an awkward alterna-rock set delivered by Billy Corgan (sans cape, thank God). Five years of anticipation is a hell of a thing, but Explosions rose to the occasion admirably. From the opening chord of "First Breath After Coma" to the decrescendo of "The Only Moment We Were Alone," we were utterly transfixed. As often as rock bands don't work at the Ryman (and we've seen plenty of great indie rockers flounder there), watching Explosions in the Sky felt like being at the symphony. The temptation to dip into jam bandery must be pretty high in instrumental music, but to their credit, EITS played their set completely by the numbers. Not once did they stray into self-indulgent soloing, and we're eternally thankful for that.
The only problem was that, frankly, Explosions in the Sky isn't exactly the most interesting band to look at. Tightly clustered together, Explosions had the sparsest stage presentation we've ever seen for a headliner at the Ryman. One can only assume that it's a statement about their identity as a band, but damn dudes. For a group as cinematic as EITS, it's surprising they don't do something visual. You don't have to bring along a film projectionist like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but you could at least Netflix an episode of Friday Night Lights or something.
What the band lacked in visual excitement, the crowd made up for by waging the eternal "rock show at the Ryman" battle for the entire show. One guy asking people to stand, someone else yelling, "SIT THE FUCK DOWN!" from the back of the room. Most of the standers complied ... except for one. One dude, who looked like he and Explosions bassist Michael James had been separated at birth, stood for most of the show, rocking the fuck out in total defiance of the complainers in the back. He wasn't obnoxious or sloppy, he just wanted to enjoy this crazy-loud spectacle like you're supposed to — standing up, pumping your fist, banging your head.
After nine songs, clocking in at just under an hour and 15 minutes, Explosions bade farewell and sent us home earlier than we're accustomed to. As much as we would've liked an encore, we get it. This is a band that is so dependent on momentum that it would probably be more trouble than it's worth to come back out. Still, after playing four songs off The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place, couldn't they have rounded it out with the fifth? We were so close! Ah well. Next time, dudes.
In the immortal words of Sen Dog and B-Real, "When the shit goes down, you better be ready!" And by Jehovah, we were! By the time we arrived at The Zombie Shop for a not-quite-a-surprise show by Bombino — an African Tuareg nomad and possibly the best guitarist on earth — last Thursday, we had a disco nap under our belts, a sixer in our hands and a whole bunch of Gold Bond in our shoes. Yes, when things get hot, The Spin puts Gold Bond in our shoes.
We started our night early. Like, "Oh look, the bands are still loading in!" early. But that was cool, because it meant we got to drink half our sixer before hilarious joke-along Southern rockers Ri¢hie — who were pulling double duty as Zombie Shop opener and FooBar closer Thursday night — were done with their set of rockin' weirdness and Gravitron-ride homages. By the time fellow Spin faves Heavy Cream were done, we had finished that sixer, excreted that sixer and were pumped on some punk motherfucking rock.
And then it was time for the main event! The Spin had missed Bombino when he was in town to play the VFW a couple of months ago, so when we got word that not only had he been in town cutting a record with The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, but also that he and his band of nomadic badasses would be playing at our favorite DIY venue ... well, we weren't gonna miss it for anything. And you know what? It was amazing. The Spin let our sweaty shock of hair down and got lost in the sound (in a way that usually takes a fistful of hallucinogens), zoning and droning out to killer tracks from Bombino's insta-classic album Agadez as well as new songs. Oh, and Auerbach showed up to throw down. It might have been our favorite Auerbach appearance since we randomly walked into the Thickfreakness tour years and years ago. Just sayin'.
And since we're on a nostalgic trip, we're just gonna come out and say it: This might have been our favorite blues show since T-Model Ford played at the Slowbar. Damn, that was forever and a day ago. Then again, magical music of this variety doesn't really come along very often. We do, however, have the sneaking suspicion that this might become a regular thing — it looks like the whole world is going to get the chance to revel in this dude's sublime six-string abilities, because, oh yeah, he just worked with one of the world's biggest rock stars. While rock stars aren't always our thing, if they're going to make records with our favorite artists from obscure corners of the globe, then we are all aboard.
Bombino's band is the sort of high-precision, high-potency outfit that music critics dream about — the drums propulsive and dynamic, the bass so deep in the pocket that it might as well be coming from another galaxy, the rhythm guitar as solid as a neutron star. And when the intensely melodic and insanely prodigious guitar playing of Bombino himself weaves in, you've got one of the most entrancing, alluring and downright stupefying sets you'll hear all summer — we spent our night split between getting lost in the sound and staring slack-jawed at the dude, trying to figure out exactly what was going on with his fingers. Sounds like that don't happen very often in our world — even in a town full of guitar players — and seeing a master of his art form operate with such ease made for a perfectly surreal, sublime, sweaty night.