Wednesday, March 30, 2011

godspeed you! black emperor @ the 40 watt 22 march 2011

You don't go to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor. You experience them. It's not just that they're present a multimedia stage show with a 2 channel video accompanying the music.

There's a formula to every Godspeed song. That's not a criticism, just an observation. Just about every John Lennon song follows a pattern, too, that doesn't diminish the genius. A Godspeed song starts out fairly quiet, with few instruments, but usually the violin. More instruments join in over time, adding both to the complexity and building up to a climatic release, and finally dissolving into the next song or quiet.

The songs move you, they transport you into a different headspace and leave you subtly changed at the conclusion. The experience is transcendental.

The band hasn't been on a US tour in nearly a decade. They resumed touring with only a dozen or so shows, with a multiple engagements in a handful of cities like San Francisco. Thankfully, the history of the 40 Watt brought them to Georgia.

A few impressions...

Because of the limited stage area, video had to be projected onto a screen behind the band. This was both frustrating because some of the elements were obscured and interesting because it served as a backdrop, relocating the band physically with the tone and mood of each sound-sight combination.

The opening song was performed against a black field with the thin, scratchy letters H O P E pulsating in white.

I was particularly moved by another visual display. The right side started with the cover of a book entitled "Anatomy of Melancholy," then medieval drawings flickered and rolled like the image on a tv set. The left side started several minutes into the song. Its medieval drawings scanned through like microfiche, then would pause on one before that image slowly disintegrated like burning film. The effect continued to spread to subsequent slides, evoking a sense of the impermanence of memory, the destructibility of history, leaving me quietly unsettled by the inherent unrecover-ability of the past.

The guys behind me asked if the band cared about athens or were just doing it for the paycheck. Given the limited number of shows on the tour and lack of recent dates, they could have sold out a lot more shows. It didn't feel like a workman performance.

Seeing Godspeed You! Black Emperor was easily the best show I've seen in nearly a decade when I last saw them play in Austin. Let's hope it won't be another decade before they hit the touring circuit again.

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