The Montreal collective known as Godspeed You! Black Emperor (exclamation location subject to change) has been and continues to be a band for our times. Setting the tone from their first recordings, monochromatic in both music and visual presentation, their vision is bleak as the upper Hudson Bay in the dead of winter. A proper book pairing might be Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
More than two decades into their recording history, the band has not forsaken the duty of portraying society as one giant, stinking hole, filled with madmen and the desperation they emanate. The ten year hiatus taken after Yanqui U.X.O. has been pretty fruitful, and last year’s Luciferian Towers fits in quite nicely with the sort of epic sound they’ve been crafting since the band’s beginnings. Those who have seen the band perform know that aside from filling every square inch of stage with drum kits, effects pedals and band members, the room is also filled with expansive sound, complemented with scratchy, jittery black and white images from projected tape loops. In some respects, the projectionist could be considered a key member of the touring band, with the mostly abstract images becoming integral to the overall performance.
Starting with a pulsating drone that grew as the members slowly filed onto the stage, the double bass and violin combination of Sophie Trudeau and Thierry Amar provided a stinging tension over the top while “Hope” flickered on the screen behind them. The song didn’t generate feelings of optimism, and “Bosses Hang” belies the nihilistic title with a sweeping string (sawed, ebow and strummed) motif that was actually a bit uplifting. “Anthem For No State” was a stately, steady drone that slowly built up enough steam to power this unnamed entity. The show closed with a real treat, as the band played both sides of the Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada EP. The shaking crescendo of “Moya” and the building paranoia of “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III” felt like a true statement of a band that has never wavered in their artistic vision.
Opener Tashi Dorji sat alone in the center of the stage, ringed by the GY!BE gear, and played a wildly inventive set that coaxed all sorts of noises from his guitar. As I was unfamiliar with his work going into the show, it was unclear if he was creating the music on the go, or if this was all mapped out previously. In any case, transcribing his work to sheet music has to qualify for an episode of World’s Worst Jobs, his physical style recalling the brutal attack of some of Keiji Haino’s work. Bracing, challenging, and ultimately satisfying, especially to the one brave soul who attempted to dance along for the entire set.
Photos of both acts here:
Created with flickr slideshow.