Godspeed You! Black Emperor Concert Review
With a tropical storm creeping up the east coast and hitting Atlanta on the night of November 10th, it was only right for legendary post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor to display a storm of their own. The group kicked off their long-postponed tour at Variety Playhouse, playing tracks from last year’s release G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!
For those unfamiliar, GY!BE is a Canadian post rock band known for their long, slow-burning instrumental compositions dating back to 1997 with their debut release F#A#∞, followed soon after by their 2000 album Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, which is widely regarded as a genre defining record and is seen by many as one of the best albums released in the 21st century. As a band that makes their mark through powerful, mind-blowing crescendos and politically charged protest motifs (including various short film segments displayed behind the band during the set), it goes without saying that I was in a state of nervous anticipation, and it wasn’t just because of the weather.
The opening act was a group known as Manas, of whom I was unfamiliar with, but I had seen of a few of the guys outside the venue. Manas is comprised usually of two members, Thom Nguyen and Tashi Dorji, but the duo had a bassist playing with them live, and he certainly helped assist them in performing what was undoubtedly the most unique performance I have ever seen. I am honestly unsure of how many “songs” the band played, as the entire 30-minute set was one continuous stream of feedback and free-jazz-esque percussion. I mean, Tashi Dorji spent half the set with his guitar upside down, scraping it against his amp or the floor to create a whirlwind of reverbed feedback, and the other half was spent tinkering with pedals. I certainly didn’t hate it, but I’m not sure I can say I liked it. Regardless, it was very entertaining, and got the crowd warmed up for the ambience and length of the songs to come.
After the stage change, Godspeed You! Black Emperor took the stage, with this version of the band featuring 8 members: Efrim Menuck (guitar), Mauro Pezzente(bass), Mike Moya(guitar), Sophie Trudeau (violin), Thierry Amar(double bass), David Bryant (guitar), Karl Lemieux(film projections), Aidan Girt(percussion), Tim Herzog(percussion). To no one’s surprise, the band did not address the crowd, and the tapes began rolling, first displaying the word “hope.” This signaled the beginning of the opening song, “Hope’s Drone,” an unreleased track that is frequently played live. After this, the band played two songs off the new album, “Job’s Lament” and “First of the Last Glaciers,” which blended perfectly together. Next up was “Anthem for No State pts. 1-3” from their 2017 album Luciferian Towers. After a flawless performance of “Cliffs Gaze,” the band went into a fan favorite titled “Fire at Static Valley” which is an absolute masterpiece. This track has a very eerie feeling, more so than usual somehow, and evokes memories of hearing “Dead Flag Blues” for the first time. This track was also accompanied by a unique, colored film reel. More specifically, orange, as the fires shown in this reel were the only colored footage displayed by the band. This was certainly one of the more emotional moments of the set, as the band also began showing footage from riots in the civil rights movement for the next song, “World Police and Friendly Fire” (another cut unavailable on streaming services). The band then closed in magnificent fashion with the iconic hurricane of a song that is “East Hastings,” my personal favorite track in the band’s discography. This song saw the band playing their absolute hardest, with ear-piercing screwdriver work done by Mike Moya, as well as film footage that mirrored that of the opening song in some ways, which gave the show a real “full circle” kind of feel. And with that, in a frenzy of lingering loops and feedback, the band stood up, one by one, and exited the stage, leaving all amps on and all loops active. This created an absolutely deafening, terrifying ambience like that of the studio version of the song, that went on for about an extra 10 minutes. Much of the crowd, including myself, were to scared to leave just in case the band returned for an encore. But alas, the sounds died off, and that was it; no stone left unturned, no note left unplayed, no government left unprotested.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a magnificent band; one of one. There has never and will never be a group quite like them, and I was elated to have had to opportunity to witness it live, exactly how they intended it to be heard and seen. Great musicians who work to deliver and popularize great messages, and as sad as they may be, the band says more in one lyric-less song than most artists, politicians, thinkers, and everyday people say in their whole lives.