More Acts Should Put on Shows Like Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Xylouris White
September 16, 2015
It happens like this:
On television, a group of people are arguing with each other. They’re not fighting over our future, but over who should be at least partially in control of what our future will be.
We’re missing this because we — myself and a bunch of strangers — are all standing in a room that most of us have stood in before. The house lights are still up, but the stage is glowing red and you can hear, not quite faintly but not quite clearly, a drone just under the chatter of the crowd. No one pays much attention, but slowly the done gets louder.
The lights go down and the musicians begin to take the stage as projectors playing abstract black and white light on the wall behind the band. The show is beginning, even if what’s being played sounds less like a song and more like a very organized warmup.
There is no verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure here. Just sound, rising like flood waters, consuming all the chatter normally heard in this room. The images remain abstract, light fighting dark, until soon a single word begins to fight through the chaos.
The noise being what it is, I try and find the message. Hope flickers in and out, scrawled white on black, jumping around as if it’s being tortured or, maybe more appropriately, trying to escape the frame. Is this a prayer? Is this a lamentation? Can hope escape? Is hope even trapped?
Before I can find an answer, the noise begins to fade. And as things get quite, I can’t help but notice the chatter that I was expecting is mostly gone. We in this room, far away from the ideological debate about the future, have been sucked in to whatever it is that Godspeed You! Black Emperor is trying to say.
Even if we don’t entirely understand the message.
I like Warehouse Live, I really do, but I think it’s a shame that this show happened here. It’s not a knock on the venue, it’s just that I want to see a band like Godspeed in somewhere that doesn’t have lighted stairs or bars that need to look hip. I want darkness surrounding me so that I can properly focus on the images. I want stars in the sky so I can look and think. I want the white sheet to be hung from trees or replaced with a rock wall.
I want something primal.
Every type of concert is gratifying in its own way if it’s good. Shows that are pop spectacle — think your Mileys and your Katys and your modern Taylor – are pure sugar; they’re fun, but they may not be emotionally satisfying. Shows that you have a strong emotional connection with — see my love letter to The Get Up Kids — pull at the heart; they’re reminders about why we fall in love with music.
I love both of those types of shows. I want all my concerts either in giant stadiums or small clubs. I’ll go to a show in a medium-sized room, but I’m probably not going to enjoy it as much as I would if it were bigger or small.
But Godspeed You! Black Emperor is something different. It’s emotional, yes, but not in a nostalgic way or a longing way. It’s pure art. It’s emotion being dragged out of you not because of anything you’ve experienced before but because you’re experiencing it right now. It’s also cerebral, which is really thrilling, because so few artists ask us to think when we go see them; they’ll preach at you about their beliefs, but they’re not going to give you art and ask you to find a truth in it.
I wish more acts would.
I don’t believe in synchronicity, but I kind of wish I did sometimes. Right as those people on TV were giving the public their final pitch on why you should vote for them, images of stock tickers and skyscrapers were being shown behind the band. The song they were playing was kind of dancey, but mostly high-strung. There was definitely tension there.
Likely that juxtaposition means nothing because it was an accident. But it’s something to think about. It’s something ponder. It’s something to take home that’s greater than just a clever T-shirt.
It’s something I wish I got more often standing in a room with a bunch of strangers.
So, How Was the Opener?: If the Greeks had discovered heavy metal 2,500 years ago, it might have sounded something like Xylouris White. These guys were fan-freaking-tastic, a weird sort of hybrid of punk, jazz and the lute. Would definitely watch again.
Personal Bias: My actual favorite part of the show is when the video artist starts burning film during “Mladic.” It’s so intense that I almost can’t handle it. It’s so intense that I have to go for a walk to collect my thoughts.
The Crowd: We’ve all probably seen that one dude at a show who is off in his own world, dancing wildly. This show had that, but then this guy took it to a whole different level. I couldn’t tell is he was a crust punk or maybe just a kung-fu master pretending to be a hobo because he’s on the run from some big bads, but he was super into his moves. That’s not the interesting part. The interesting part is that he started stalking his way through the crowd with weird, creepy motions, moving in between people when he could find a gap. I have no idea who is was or what his life is like, but he’s easily the most interesting person I’ve ever seen at a show.
Overhead in the Crowd: Nothing, because all there was is sound, waiting to consume us all.
Random Notebook Dump: I get buying a ticket to Hozier then talking through the show until he plays his single. I don’t understand buying tickets to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, then standing in a circle at the back of the venue chatting.