Godspeed You Black Emperor
Brooklyn Masonic Temple
Tuesday, March 15
“The only band whose show I’ve ever had to walk out of due to physical fear,” notes my ordinarily strong-willed cohort this evening (the vibrations at a long-ago Knitting Factory gig apparently made him sweaty), five minutes into tonight’s 150-minute affair, a lonely violin sawing over a deep, disconcerting bass hum, the house lights down, the gradually accruing band members defiantly unlit, the storm gathering (multiple guitars, multiple drummers, multiple layers of seething feedback), the word “hope” projected on the twin projection screens behind them like a taunt, like something long abandoned. He makes it this time, my friend. We all do (I think). But not by much.
Listen, we can do this the easy way or the hard way: The easy way is a freshly reunited Canadian post-rock juggernaut played 15-minute anarcho-apocalyptic orchestral suites that started out real quiet and GRADUALLY GOT REAL LOUD for like two and a half hours. Which I was not at all mad at, until the last 15 minutes or so, the feedback squalls and ominous riffs and suffocating air of sonic malice finally wearing off, wearing thin, wearing down. This is one of those cinematic/oceanic/panoramic bands, not so much a concert as an alternately too-languid and too-vigorous deep-tissue massage, such ludicrous grandiosity perfect for the loudest-venue-in-town grandeur of Brooklyn Masonic; standing there and absorbing it all, it felt like the 25-pound steak where if you eat it all your meal is free: Man vs. Sound.
The omnipresent guitar maelstrom aside (dudes doing a lot of sitting, a lot of kneeling, a lot of back-to-the-audience deep concentration, all in service of dying-whale Doppler Effect moans and sustained jet-engine fusillades), your band MVP is violinist Sophie Trudeau, who’s calling most of the shots here, setting the tone, giving you a melody to cling to, be it heartbreaking in its fragility or eardrum-piercing in its sawed-off ardor. “World Police and Friendly Fire” sets its repetitive eight-note figure in stone early and waits nearly nine minutes to build up to the teeth-gnashing climax you immediately see coming but still aren’t quite prepared for; the projection-screen visuals (provided by four actual projectors looming behind the soundboard in the back of the house, all the spools of film hanging down from a stand like strands of celluloid spaghetti) helpfully switching from a tiny flame to entire buildings on fire. This is all unsubtle in a commendably painstaking way, devilishly complex delivery systems for very simple ideas.
So yes, it gets to be an endurance contest lo about the second hour, the tension-and-release rhythm fully internalized as it’s applied to desert-rock dirges, demented waltzes, triumphant raised-fist intellectual-superhero theme songs, nowhere else to really go with it now but down and back up, loud and soft again. The projections are nice, but when they start alternating between signs reading “The end is at hand” (yes!) and “24 HRS” (oh no!), you start to miss the absurd visual elements that’ve livened up previous pummeling Brooklyn Masonic affairs: the psycho charisma of Swans’ Michael Gira, the costumed grotesquerie of Sunn O))). The collective sigh of relief when the house lights go up is palpable. Physical fear and physical exhaustion are both pretty tough for bands to evoke. Both are perhaps better appreciated in retrospect.
Critical Bias: I put “Godspeed” into Twitter’s search engine looking for second opinions and mostly got people praying for the Japanese nuclear-power-plant workers.
Overheard: “Rock it! C’mon!” shouts some bro right as the show begins, with a heckler’s insouciance, clearly confused about where he is.
Random Notebook Dump: Titles available at the back-of-the-house makeshift bookstore include The Philosophy of Punk, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, Wobblies and Zapatistas, and Pacifism as Pathology.