Explosions in my Mind
Seeing One of Your Favorite Bands on MDMA
Right now as I write this, and recall to a date that meant more to me than I ever thought, I reminisce in an Irish interior bar in the south of Wisconsin. To my left there’s a projector nailed to a beam playing local television on a projector screen. Always uneven. I order a locally imported beer and I remembered as I slam it down in several gulps, that this beer was what made me decide to go to one of the most important concerts I’ve ever been to. You ever have a moment to yourself where you see, taste, or smell something and it without hesitation throws you back to a time that really mattered, or left a mark on you?
Back in 2016 I had a wonderful opportunity to see the Texan post-rock group Explosions in the Sky out at The Covenant Arts Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you’ve never heard of Explosions in the Sky, that’s totally okay. Most people don’t always know them right away by name. Regardless this instrumental group has left an important mark in music with their incredibly unique approach to rock, utilizing their instrumentation as a tool for speaking, and moving their listeners.
Providing the original soundtrack for movies such as Friday Night Lights, Prince Avalanche, and even Lone Survivor, Explosions knows how to orchestrate nostalgia. Just listening to one of their records in its entirety paints a vivid picture of daydreams that will either move you to tears, or make you smile harder than you can ever imagine. The music in itself is a drug, and although you may or may not agree, drugs are what sometimes make music more intense and enjoyable. Like when you hear stories of Deadheads talking about when they used LSD to visualize the music and utilizing all their senses to feel an already talented group of people give them an added experience they wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for LSD. I was shaking with excitement to go see one of my all time favorite bands. During the eight hour drive to revisit this quirky Midwest state, I smoked some weed and reflected on the powerful impact this prominent instrumental band had on my own writing.
As my friends and I finally get to our hotel, we drove around this suburban area that felt like a cookie cutter town straight out of the movie Edward Scissor Hands, but was actually just a super nice college area. I take a full point of a street drug known as “Molly” that my buddy was saving for my friends and I during this show. Scientifically it’s classified as MDMA when you break down its chemical structure. MDMA is not something I recommend to do regularly, or on a daily basis considering it can cause serotonin syndrome which can be severe and deadly. There can be negative effects, but in this case this story contains positive eye-opening experiences and epiphanies that are subjective, but still interesting to indulge in even for me.
Once we parked our cars and met with our other group of friends, we finally get our tickets zapped by some sweet old ladies, and we settle into a seated theatre. The seats were soft, comfortable, and nothing special all at the same time. I was slightly surprised to see this college in what felt like the middle of a town full of yuppies who might call the cops on you if you’re walking home from the bar. I felt like I was gearing up to experience something exclusive, and new. Something only a limited amount of people do and are allowed to see. I saw so many people, young, old, and everything in-between.
As we’re relaxing and anticipating what will happen, these two young and glowing women appear on stage nervous, yet nonchalant. At this point my dosage of Molly hasn’t fully kicked in, but the effects are on the horizon, and this causes an overwhelming appreciation of my live experience of this first group. This pop duo is called PARTS, and they are straight out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In my opinion it was a total unexpected band to open up for Explosions. I would have never thought that an instrumental rock band would have an appreciation for local music let alone a female synth-pop duo that actually ended up blowing me away, and continues to be a favorite group of mine till this day.
Their breathy vocals, glittery drum effects, with warm and calming beats were making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I was truly being introduced to something new. As each beat hit me with excitement, and bounced through my chest. I was mesmerized by their performance, appearance, and their music. I was dropping my jaw, and enthralled by the talent that was before me. PARTS wasn’t just this electronic duo from Michigan, these guys were something honest, and truthful. Their lyrics spoke out to me in such a way, that I felt obligated to add their music to my iTunes after I had the opportunity to meet one of the members and fully indulge in their videos on YouTube and more of their music on bandcamp.
As PARTS finished and intermission hit the theatre, I was anxiety ridden, and fully ready for the main event. I saw one of the members of PARTS kind of awkwardly standing in the middle, and you can tell she would pay any one of us to not ask the same questions. I wanted to respect her space, and only said ‘hello’ and that their performance was great. It’s easy to get lost, and go off on ridiculous tangents when you take a drug that’s basically the cousin of Ecstasy.
I went out through the entrance to have a cigarette outside with the other young people my age who want Stage IV Lung Cancer before 40. I had some small talk with local fans of the group, some college kids and older music nerds with an appreciation for this group and everything they do. I met an older gentlemen that sat to the left of me during PARTS, who said that Explosions in the Sky live is “incomparable” to lots of rock performances. I had no idea what he meant until they finally entered the stage.
I was beginning to feel the euphoria I was about to fully experience. As these 15 minutes passed during intermission, they felt like an eternity. I drove with my friends 8 hours to get to this state, to this town, to unexpectedly take these drugs, smoke a copious amount of cigarettes and weed to have this intense feeling I never knew I’d ever appreciate. I was beginning to have these intense epiphanies and thoughts as the time was coming to fruition. Sitting back down and actually observing what’s before my impaired eyes became this moment of pure intimidation as well as excitement. I saw these thin black lights, and their instruments displayed as organized as possible on stage. The drums glared, the mallets and drum sticks were lazily strewn on the heads of the drums, the guitars looked like they were patiently waiting to be graced and utilized to formulate different emotions. I saw an electric piano, I had no idea what was all going to happen. In my head I was saying to myself, “I didn’t even know Explosions in the Sky used pianos?” My head was shooting off in so many directions at different speeds, it almost became overwhelming.
Explosions in the Sky gets on stage. Finally. My anxiety is gone, my moment of clarity was starting to come in. I was filled with emotionally intense feelings as soon as I saw them get on. All these scraggly guys- some look a little younger than the others, were at the center. They are eponymous. These guys aren’t just individuals, they are what their band name is. Just these four guys are what creates this really amazing, thunderous sound. It’s all I could think before they said very few words before beginning to play. I was on the edge. I immediately got up to applaud them before they spoke for a brief millisecond. At least that’s how fast it felt. There was zero hesitation to jump into the music, or to not really introduce anyone, or even explain much of anything in great detail like their songs and what they might mean.
As soon as they began playing, my mind was dead set on the similarities of orchestral performances, or even theater performances. Everything seemed like it was up for your own interpretation. It was starting to make sense why they played where they do. This somber, melodic music that builds up in such a way is meant for these environments and the people that set foot in them. These different stimulating sources put you in such a trance. It makes you reminisce on your own life, your own personal story. It’s almost as if it’s perfectly simulated in your imagination. It is incredibly vivid especially on MDMA. Your ‘what ifs’ and how life would look like in different frame works in your mind.
I was tripping so hard, I started to cry as Explosions kept playing their set. The music was speaking to me, as well as to my emotional core. There was no stopping. There were no explanations. I was too aware of the things they were conveying through their musical performance. It just hit me so hard, like watching life be born before your eyes. They came on stage knowing what they were going to do and how they were going to do it. They executed a musical performance that moved me deeply. The thin black bar ended up being lights that moved and went with their live performances with each song. Every knee-jerk transition was in-tuned with the lights. It made everything going on inside my mind even more discombobulated yet mesmerizing.
Tear after tear, my face was leaking. My face and eyes were so red people might’ve thought I got broken up with by someone during the show. I couldn’t let go of the emotions I already feel naturally when I listened to Explosions in the Sky in my free time. Now more than ever this band and their songs that transition with such ease have spoken to me in such a mentally stimulating capacity that I can’t separate from, especially in that exact moment and context. They make combining different songs from different albums look easy. They make everything seem so easy. Seamlessly changing instruments, or adding different things into their instruments like a bow when playing their guitar in certain songs, or really heavy piano synths and samples from their albums. They probably had the same effect on people who don’t go to shows high out of their minds. I could feel everyone wanting to pay attention. It felt like leaving your seat at any second was a sin and it was to me
That’s the true beauty of music and interpreting it. Even if you used drugs and have seen your favorite artists, or really great artists live, you still have been effected by that performance. That time you spent in that mindset has changed you, whether we like to admit it or not. Seeing Explosions in the Sky on Molly was something I didn’t think I’d ever do, nor would I want to do, but I did and it changed the way I wanted to approach my music at the time. It changed the way I listened to Explosions, or most music in general after seeing them. As cheesy as it might seem, this performance is what made me understand. It made me get why we even have music at all, why we go out and experience music in general live. It’s not for the sheer fact of being there to just be there, but maybe it’s the fact we get the opportunity to reflect on what’s really here and around us when we go and really realize that sometimes the answers don’t need words. They are a melody that enthralls you to begin that process.