By Erik Anderson
We were placing bets as we waited for Godspeed to take the stage. Over/under three songs played was the line.
Enjoying longform composition is a requirement for attending a Godspeed concert. With songs often unfolding over 20 minutes, this is not music for the narrow minded or those quick to press skip. For the record they did play over three songs, but if they hadn’t, I don’t think anyone in the venue would have minded.
Selling out Thalia Hall for two straight nights, Godspeed You! Black Emperor proves that their enigmatic and much copied style of post-rock still resonates with independent music fans 25 years after the release of their debut album.
The crowd was a mixed bag of sorts with older fans side by side with a younger generation who were not even born at the time of Godspeed’s debut. The internet must be a major factor in this. For a time, Lift Your Skinny Fists memes were some of the most prevalent and circulated imagery both in the depths and towards the surface of the musically literate internet.
Whether old or young, though, the crowd united in holding a quiet reverence for the Quebecois group.
The set commenced with a duet between Thierry Amar on the double bass and Sophie Trudeau on the violin. The hypnotic bowing vibrated throughout the hall and gradually built as more members of the group would take the stage.
Godspeed somehow manages to inhabit a space of minimalism and maximalism simultaneously. With three guitarists, two bassists, two drummers, and a violinist, the group’s sound is anything but small, yet their often repetitive and deeply entrancing grooves feel almost meditative.
Film looped behind the group from varying sources, arranged as if occupying two pages of an open book. The diverse footage of planes falling from the sky, protests, the construction of cityscapes, and many others did not adhere to a single theme but rather added to the surrealistic journey the audience was taking part in.
Though some prerecorded vocals played over certain tracks such as the classic “Sleep,” the band did not speak with the audience at all. This emotional distance added to the mystique of the evening and amplified the intensity of the compositions.
Twisted delays, looping insanity, and mesmerizing harmonics all played into the dynamic energy that is arguably Godspeed’s most attractive characteristic. Their ability to lull the audience into a sublime trance only to intensify and intensify and INTENSIFY until one’s whole body and mind feels submerged in a wash of sound is the most powerful trait of their sound and one that was used to full effect that evening.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor felt just as much like going to church or the symphony as going to a rock concert. It takes a unique and innovative group to achieve that feat. I hope Godspeed keeps sharing this music with new and old fans alike for generations to come.