Published Sep 05, 2013A bass-heavy drone pulsated endlessly through the theatre's soundsystem as the crowd awaited the appearance of one of Montreal's most consistently buzzed-about collectives, but this was no mere intermission iPod shufflery. As the lights dimmed, Sophie Trudeau and Thierry Amar wafted in from the wings to layer on violin and double bass, respectively, followed by the unmistakable afro of guitarist Efrim Menuck. Piece by piece, the eight-strong entity known as Godspeed You! Black Emperor took shape.
The show was transmogrified by hidden ninth member Karl Lemieux, whose visuals played an integral part in the band's aural incantation. As they built on the drone, flashes of static patterns began to fade in and out on the big screen behind them. The eerie, sepia-toned images became consistent as the drone progressed with sparse pockets of percussion, dissonant strings, analog tape effects and guitar feedback, and as they built to a crescendo, the word "hope" appeared. And so, as has been their recent custom, the "Hope Drone" kicked off another transcendent Godspeed You! Black Emperor live experience.
The visuals transitioned to split-screen shots of typewritten pages, political photography, schematics and distorted view from a moving train as the band transitioned into their next piece. A bubbling, film-melting effect of the previous images appeared as the hook from "Mladic" took form, so visceral that it seemed Lemieux was burning the film live.
There was a propulsive flow through their set. There wasn't a break in the sound until about a half hour in, which finally provided a moment for uproarious applause and gave brief relief from their ritualistic tension. Yet, this was only a momentary lag; after a short ambient piece performed in near darkness, the collective moved into a particularly heavy and lengthy take on "Behemoth," set to flickering tweaks of the bombed out shack from the cover of their Polaris Prize-nominated Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! album.
They performed with the grandiose ferocity of Explosions In The Sky, but with more subtlety and slight imperfection, almost nonchalantly fumbling towards ecstasy. No one was the star of their show; the band was one entity, with several band members moving around instruments between and during jams. Seeing them was like appreciating a fine tapestry, with no thread bearing greater significance in the whole.