The Hunter Lounge
Saturday, February 9
Here’s the thing, the fans won’t like this but Godspeed You! Black Emperor do in fact alternate between being a Heavy Metal Sigur Ros and Overdriven Kebab-Shop Rock. But, wait, come back – that’s not an insult, just an observation. It’s no longer of any real significance what you do, it’s always how you do it. And the Canadian post-rockers nail it – they even nail the overly-long drone and dissonance intros/outros. Truth be told they could have cut a couple of the intros but for the most part they had the audience spellbound.
You see, midway through the opening half-hour seesawing surge of vociferous violin battling bowed double-bass and mild drum thunder it became apparent that – live – Godspeed wasn’t so much post-rock as prog-rock, but it’s such a dirty word init? Prog! (It sounds like the worst kind of date possible: a priggish pog; a prog). But battle on, overcome the aversion to genre-tags and that whole shtick about “labels shouldn’t be used to define bands, man” – because Godspeed You! Black Emperor, managed, within the first 20 minutes of a rather revelatory performance, to sound like Pink Floyd at Pompeii, Amon Dull and – possibly, just possibly, Deep Purple in full California Jam mode.
But too many fans will line up to suggest instead that it was art – not rock; that it was a religious experience, that it was soundtrack music to the best horror films never made, that it was The Dead C if they could actually play instruments (fabulous opening set from Michael Morley by the way), that it was a musical orgasm, some series of slow-building/slow-burning crescendos…
And yes, in various ways, it was all of that. But it was also a bit tedious in places, very prog-like (not prog-lite) and often joyous even amid the chatter and clatter of drinkers.
What Godspeed You! Black Emperor do so well is build a sound world, up and up the melodies soar, spiralling and weaving, colliding with one another as they scale the rhythmic backdrop – and it’s so easy to forget about antecedents; to push past the comparisons that might seem so insulting to the passionate attendees. But when it all settles; a piece (let’s not go calling them songs or tunes) will finish (eventually) and those prog tendencies are obvious, that Heavy Metal Sigur Ros move is getting ready to be called on again, that Overdriven Kebab Shop Rock has been pegged out to dry for a bit (how much did our own An Emerald City love this band?) and the true believers and a bunch of suckers have both been pulled in, lured in, held in the sway. Nobody is wrong. Everything seems right. And when the lights were switched on, two hours after the sonic whirlwind, it was a bunch of zombies heading for the door. Nobody could quite believe what had happened.
But it had – most definitely – been a happening.