We Went There: Godspeed You Black Emperor at First Avenue
The last time Godspeed You! Black Emperor was in town was 2003. It would be the night that George W Bush went on TV to announce our bombing of Iraq and the start of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and most remembered to my circles as the night the band berated us for it. “You! This is your fault!” was the shout as Bush’s speech echoed over the songs that night as the band left the stage. The band later broke up that year but returned in 2010 but did not set out on a full tour until now. About a month shy of 13 years later they came back to First Avenue.
Opener Xylouris White kicked things off with a unique and captivating performance. Greek lute player George Xylouris and Dirty Three drummer Jim White (with a little stand up bass added at the end) played well off each other with White’s extremely animated drumming style made for the perfect accompaniment to a sitting Xylouris and his rambling lute songs. Rooted in Greek music the lute made a perfect drone of strings and sounds to what would be the crushing instrumentals of GY!BE.
After the curtain raise and customary opener “Hope Drone” the band slowly walked on to stage and started with “Peasantry Or ‘Light! Inside Of Light!’” from last year’s Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress. The band locked in to an Earth-like plod as the song set a stark tone for the beginning of the show. Whereas earlier GY!BE relied on building and falling dynamics, the first half of the set really emphasized the difference between then and what they do now. In a way, the newer songs lack any of the hope or nostalgia you get from the earlier material. What’s left is a steamroll of instrumental dread and the idea that GY!BE might not believe there is much hope left.
The first half of the show was dedicated to the suite of songs that make up the last album. Up above in the sound booth you could see the racks of film strips and projectors. Starting with a small flicker of lightness, the projections also built over the course of the night to images of animals, buildings, plants all in a slow motion crawl to match the music. Once they wrapped up the album closer “Piss Crowns Are Trebled” the band played their only new song of the night. Known as “Buildings” to fans currently (probably has to do with the projections that accompanied) the song helped bridge newer Godspeed to the Godspeed of the past. A slow temp dirge that gave way into a quiet guitar and strings section and finally building itself into a circling figure of sound.
The opening violin “Moya” drew a small cheer from the audience as the band started into what would be the final two songs of the night that dug way back into their catalog to 1999’s Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada. “Moya” showcases best what GY!BE has made themselves best known for: steady drones, moments of solitary guitar chords and an long cinematic build up to a finale. They followed with the closer and second half of Slow Riot… “BBF3”, a slow burn of guitar buildups and spoken samples. The band sounded their most urgent as things kicked into the double time coda before culminating in a storm of noise loops as the band slowly left the stage one by one. The drones slowly died as amps were turned off one by one and the house lights came on over the still enraptured crowd, leaving us with a feeling that there might be some hope for us all yet.