Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Danforth Music Hall, Toronto ON, September 25

Photo: Geoff Fitzgerald

BY Matt BobkinPublished Sep 26, 2015

The link between classical music and Montreal post-rock iconoclasts Godspeed You! Black Emperor is one not explored frequently enough but, as the octet slowly filed onto the stage crafting their trademark opening drone, the sonic parallels to an orchestra's tuning were unmistakable. Amidst the T-shirts, jeans, beer cans, and electric guitars was a distinctly classical atmosphere, juxtaposing soaring violin melodies with an apocalyptic brand of grandiose rock — unmistakably Godspeed, and the elements that have kept the band as legends for close to two decades.
The carefully chosen set list featured the band's most monolithic rockers, each track with its own distinctive riff played mostly in unison, repeated, distorted and dissected before giving way to winding passages and calculatedly disjointed clatter. The band's vocal-free music conveys emotion through a similar technique to silent films, replacing emotive extreme close-ups with larger-than-life, overwhelming passages, all cylinders firing in unison, though occasional text on their signature live projections helped, as with the repetitive scratches of "HOPE" accompanying the opening "Hope Drone."
While listening to Godspeed can be an exhausting experience due to the sheer immenseness of their sound, feeling it bombard your body is a whole other story. The ambient simmering between tracks was a necessity to allow both performers and audience alike to collect themselves in preparation of the next bone-rattling tune (and for bassist Thierry Amar to take drags from an e-cigarette onstage, which is the most Montreal thing I have ever seen, and I used to live there).
Though the droning pauses were necessary, they were never excessive. The biggest criticism of their latest LP, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, played in near-entirety, was the 15-minutes of drone sandwiched between crushing rock epics. The live rendition drastically shortened the section, culling it to the mandatory minimum to recover from klezmer-influenced "Peasantry" before the gut-wrenching suite closer "Piss Crowns Are Trebled."
The band also showcased one new track, one of the latest subjects to their traditional extensive road testing, with a riff that recalled the world's most epic lullaby, one that wouldn't be out of place on a track by Godspeed side-project Silver Mt. Zion. The most lilting thing to keep one awake, the track indicated that Godspeed's reunion remains fruitful.
As they've done for so many years, the troupe continued their assault on emotion by oscillating between intense precision and scattered denouements. From the unmitigated exultance of opening "Hope Drone" and "Gathering Storm" to the nefarious bombast of "Monheim"'s concert-closing melody, Godspeed explored the tension of triumph and terror, and everything in between.

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