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Postrock Jock Jams

Explosions in the Sky, Paper Chase, Eluvium, 9:30 Club, March 17

Joel Didriksen for kingpinphoto.com
PRAYERS ON FIRE: The Paper Chase's John Congleton (center) blesses your black heart.

By Jess Harvell | Posted 3/28/2007

Explosions in the Sky, Paper Chase, Eluvium

9:30 Club, March 17

It was St. Patrick's Day, but the collegiate crowd at the 9:30 Club was about as rowdy as a church social. Amazingly, the reason for this sellout show was the quite unspectacular postrock of Explosions in the Sky, and even stranger, the indie-rock hipsters were outnumbered two to one by kids who looked like they had been bussed in from a suburban teen TV drama. And the religious reverence was oddly appropriate for opener Eluvium, a one-man laptop and guitar band, playing loud and lonely Durutti Column-esque electronic minimalism that sounded like tolling cathedral bells in the vastness of the Washington club.

We were there for the Paper Chase--us and about five other people, judging by the smattering of polite applause that slowly gave way to confused, blank stares and folded arms as the band's 45-minute set progressed. But if Eluvium and Explosions in the Sky's bland instrumentals lacked personality, the Paper Chase spun current emo's fascination with the "dark side" and campy cabaret affectations into something hilarious, ridiculous, and exhilarating, like the most erudite and over the top teen suicide note you ever read. Haystack bassist Bobby Weaver and tattooed drummer Jason Garner handled the heavily orchestrated waltzing rhythms with concrete force--a friend quipped that Garner's kick drum might have rendered him sterile--and keyboardist Sean Kirkpatric' Ouijaed up the ghosts of Supertramp, Yellow Brick Road-era Elton John, and Bauhaus, also triggering the shock-horror samples and choked victims' sobs that only added to the slasher-flick ambiance.

And looking like the bleach-blond baby of song-and-dance cadaver Nick Cave and the throbbing gristle of veiny young Arto Lindsay's bug-eyed guitar garroting, melodrama-queen frontman and skronk maestro John Congleton had the wary audience for most of the set, until he unleashed the blackly comic chorus of "At the Other End of the Leash"--"Like a pretty girl in a wheelchair/ Who still claims she fell down the stairs"--and a thousand indie-rock fans suddenly asked for the check. It was a classic case of already uncomfortable kids turning uptight the minute someone dares to take music into the absurd. "What was that?" an onlooker asked after the Paper Chase's set, as if he was surveying an accident. Only the funniest goth act since the Birthday Party, and potential stars in a world where My Chemical Romance sells out arenas while performing in wheelchairs.

What we think is weird, however, is the love affair young America has suddenly developed for the Paper Chase's fellow Texans Explosions in the Sky. As we stood outside between sets for a cigarette--a brief taste of Baltimore's own uncivilized future--four teenage girls rushed up to us, asking worriedly if Explosions had played yet and looking genuinely relieved when we told them no. This newfound audience stems at least in part from the band's music being used in both the movie and TV versions of the football drama Friday Night Lights; in a recent issue of The Fader, the band confessed, somewhat embarrassed, to getting letters from jocks who rock Explosions' utterly generic quiet-loud-quiet postrock on the Stairmaster.

And the crowd cheered when the diminutive band members took the stage like the all-star team had just taken the field. At one point they were clapping along to what basically amounted to Mogwai with even that band's tiny little rough edges sanded off. After nearly two decades of this sort of ecstatic-release-for-dummies--feel your heart swell as the band finally reaches that loud, climactic peak!--it was impossible to be moved by Explosions' shtick, fake classical music for cuties in indie scruff and hoodies. But while we never thought we'd be seeing the hot new teenage trend at this show, Explosions' new mobbed-by-teens success isn't that odd; after all, what kid doesn't think their crappy day at school deserves its own epic soundtrack?

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