[live review] godspeed you! black emperor @ the troxy
December 15, 2010
This performance (and the following two in their three-day residence at the Troxy) was Christmas come early for those of us who couldn’t make it to the Godspeed-curated Nightmare Before Christmas festival organised by All Tomorrow’s Parties. As their last set of performances on these shores for the foreseeable future (pending “further introspection“), it was an evening to be embraced, embodied, savoured.
The set opened with a single word, scrawled and rescrawled onto the projection screen behind the band. Hope, which took the form of a sustained drone, building gradually into waves of static-saturated chords before breaking into Gathering Storm (from 2000’s Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven!), its gospel-like melody distantly echoing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.
From then on the dark, portentous world the band created – cloaking the assembled in layer upon sonic layer of anticipation, suggestion and reflection – was inescapable. Monheim, also from Skinny Fists, was the first of several breathtaking moments that unfolded in slow motion, accumulating and relaying meaning with every beat.
Throughout, sound was accompanied by sequences of sepia-tinged film – dilapidated buildings, pastoral landscapes, scenes of urban decay, engineering blueprints, flocks of birds at dusk – their apparent randomness creating new points of departure for the cinema reel inside your head. In the end, though, these images were superfluous. One-by-one the audience surrendered wholly to the music: eyes closed, imaginations opened, dreamstates entered.
The band continued to mine Skinny Fists – surfacing the fragile power of Chart #3/World Police And Friendly Fire – until the final trio of pieces, which effectively comprised the second half of the performance. The pounding, almost tribal Dead Metheny, from debut album proper F♯ A♯ ∞ (1998) gave way to phase-driven muscular baroque of Rockets Fall On Rocket Falls (from 2002’s Yanqui U.X.O.).
With the audience’s senses heightened by the preceding perfect storm, the set’s final message was delivered. The evening concluded with Blaise Bailey Finnegan III’s counter-cultural (and apparently Iron Maiden-inspired) sermon: BBF3 from 1999’s sublime EP, Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada. And the music faded to the drone it had sprung from two-and-a-quarter hours earlier.
It being a few years since I last saw Godspeed live (with no new studio-recorded material released in the interim), I was a little apprehensive that Monday’s performance would merely be a repeat of what I had already seen. I guess it was a repeat in a sense, but there was nothing “mere” about it. Godspeed You! Black Emperor make music of consequence, and its power grows in the retelling.