Godspeed You! Black Emperor / Total Life

Vogue Theatre, Vancouver BC February 16

> > Feb 17 2011

Godspeed You! Black Emperor / Total Life - Vogue Theatre, Vancouver BC February 16
By Josiah HughesWhile it clearly depends on your age and where you lived at the time, there's no denying that Montreal post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor had a profound impact on an entire generation of people in the band's turn-of-the-millennium heyday, so their return to the stage was equal parts anticipation and folklore.

Kicking off the group's North American reunion run in Vancouver, a weight hovered over the Vogue Theatre as fans awaited the group's return. With that in mind, it was difficult to appreciate opener Total Life, whose heady synthscapes would have been more at home on a mixtape between Black Dice and Emeralds.

In the same way that Godspeed You! Black Emperor communicates their apocalypse-laden message of hope without words, words too fall short of doing their live presentation justice. A wall of amps, several guitarists, two bass players, a drummer, a percussionist and a violinist allowed the eight members on stage to explore dense sonics that varied from ear-bleeding cacophony to pin-dropping guitar segues within each 20-minute suite.

You would have been hard pressed to find evidence of a seven-year absence in Godspeed's ebbing and flowing set, as they explored massive crescendos and delicate transitions with unified dynamics. Also missing were any signs that their sound was dated, with the group's shimmering but voiceless anthems translating well in the current musical climate.

The length of the show was definitely a minor issue, however, as attention spans have clearly dwindled since the early 2000s and a two-hour instrumental set can be daunting. The band's inclusion of 16mm film was a perfect remedy to this, as well as an integral part of the show, accenting the songs with well-planned and highly inventive images from three clicking projectors in the back of the room.

When the show did feel like it was lagging, particularly with selections from the band's divisive Yanqui U.X.O., it only increased the intensity of the explosive climaxes. Closing with a triumphant rendition of their 1999 classic "BBF3," the group imploded into a sea of white noise and feedback, leaving jaws on the ground and fans heralding Godspeed's return.
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Solemn, impersonal grand gestures that didn't stray from the script. Not a speck of levity (a little is welcome amidst the heaviness) from the band or its' followers who were churchmouse quiet in their reverence. (shhh!) The films riffed on the authentic, harrowing, fragile, industrial, apocolyptic themes while the performers largely sat impervious to the audience. On a few occasions the music lifted from its' structure but not near enough. I might have just cranked the record and watched Wallace Berman's Aleph with my friends and skipped the hushed pretense.
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This may be the only reunion-type tour I've ever seen that actually wasn't a total embarrassment. Having a real-life projectionist burning, altering and manipulating the film was amazing. At one point, dude had a glass of water in front of the camera lens and simply used his hand to make some of the most tripped-out visuals ever. And the band may have stuck to "the script" (whatever that is) but the show really made it seem like those song were written to be played life and they slayed the recorded versions. Definitely worth experiencing, guys.
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"I might have just cranked the record and watched Wallace Berman's Aleph with my friends and skipped the hushed pretense."

I disagree. The level of dynamics they reach live is far beyond what any recording can manage to express, especially when it comes to the drums. The percussion on their recordings has always been a bit tame IMO, but they killed it live.
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"I might have just cranked the record and watched Wallace Berman's Aleph with my friends and skipped the hushed pretense."

I bet you feel smart with your pretentious comment and obscure references.

But I have to disagree. This was a phenomenal show, the likes of which I've never seen. No recording could capture the experience of seeing this band live. I'm disappointed that the ticket was wasted on you.
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I also meant to elaborate on the sound of the bass in a live setting. With two bass players it was crazy intense! Definitely worth the trip to Vancouver from Calgary... don't miss this tour if you can help it!
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Looks like I wasn't the only one that flew from Calgary to see this show.
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The two hour attention requirement didn't seem to challenge many in the crowd, with perhaps the exception of a clutch of toque sporting scenesters who wandered back and forth from lobby to floor looking for someone to acknowledge their hipness. They missed a great show. I felt the two hours flew by. Great work ethic from GY!BE.
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