Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

with Gates

@ the Vogue

September 4th, 2013

A Wednesday night in early September might not seem like the ideal night for a show, but for the sold out crowd at the Vogue, there was nowhere they’d rather be. As people starting flowing into the theatre you didn’t have to listen hard to overhear people saying how long they’d been waiting for this night, or how far they travelled for the concert. You couldn’t blame them for being excited about Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a band that seldom tours and are notorious for playing some of the loudest, most intense shows around when they do go on the road. The fact that they were touring behind their new, critically acclaimed record ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend (their first full length in a decade) added to the buzz. As the lights dimmed, the fans stood up, the background music stopped, and the show began.

The night started off with opening act Gate. With only a guitar and a massive pedalboard, the New-Zealand based experimental musician played a short half-hour set, comprised of two songs filled with more guitar effects than you can imagine. His first song was an extremely dense loop filled opus; at times it was hard to believe that those sounds were coming from just one man. Starting up soft, slowly building with guitar over guitar, and all the while using weird tribal-esque vocals, this song was exactly what you’d expect from a post-rock guitar player. His second song was quite different, focusing more on twisting knobs instead of actually playing his guitar. It proved to be a rather minimalistic affair. Although it would make a great drone on record, it was performed quite poorly. At times it was unsure whether he was experiencing pedal problems or simply performing, and his lack of stage presence failed to fully capture the audience’s attention.


Roughly half an hour after Gate’s performance, Godspeed started coming on stage. With only a violinist and an upright bass player to begin with, the band members appeared one by one, each adding a layer of their own. Finally the full ensemble of 8 people found themselves on stage, creating a harmony that was as confusing as it was beautiful. Kicking their set off with “Hope Drone” and transitioning smoothly into an intense rendition of “Mladic” (both songs off their new album), it was only around 40 minutes in that they stopped for the first time, giving way to a lengthy, well deserved applause from the ecstatic audience. The break was short lived, as they quickly went on to perform their 45 minute epic (and very aptly named) “Behemoth,” an extremely slow building track, filled with highs and lows, eventually culminating with a monstrously heavy riff.

Despite the band’s massive lineup of extremely talented musicians, which featured 3 guitars, a violin, two basses and two drumsets, the show wouldn’t of been complete without Karl Lemieux, the bands’ hidden ninth member, controlling the film projections. His sepia tinted projections did much more than just compliment the songs which they were being used as a backdrop for, but brought a new feeling to the songs, something that can’t be replicated in recordings. The music was changed from two dimensional blueprints into three dimensional works of art, almost as if he were bringing the sounds alive. The projections also did a great of job of capturing the overall atmosphere of the songs and setting the mood for the show, creating scenes reminiscent of loneliness, fear, and paranoia. The fact that these projections captured Godspeed’s sound so well gave the audience a unique concert experience.

Besides astounding visuals, Godspeed performed with exquisite musicianship. Every note they played sounded as it had been meticulously calculated in advance, even the noise freak-outs had a hint of orchestration in them. It was apparent that they had been playing together for years. One of the most overwhelming moments of the set had to be the “Behemoth” climax, which went from an intense noise jam (the guitarists playing with some sort of spinning screwdriver) straight into a jaw dropping riff, which featured all band members playing the same riff in different octaves, in perfect syncopation. The final product sounded like it had been manufactured in a factory all the while still sounding completely human.

The set itself was extraordinary, clocking in at roughly 2 hours and venturing throughout Godspeed’s discography. It kept the audience on their feet at all times and was catered perfectly for the diehard and casual fans alike. Their set featured not only the “hits” but also two non-album tracks and prolonged versions of certain songs. Even though the set was long and the band made little to no effort to interact with the crowd, the audience paid full attention throughout the set. The way the visuals matched up with the sheer bliss of the music was more than enough to keep a crowd enthralled.

Even after 15 years, Godspeed You! Black Emperor have proven that they are still a force to be reckoned with thanks to their riveting live act. It isn’t everyday you get to hear a band perform with such power, while still maintaining an extremely orchestrated sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for a Godspeed performance. They don’t tour often, but they do offer one amazing show.


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