Godspeed You! Black Emperor

support Tashi Dorji
author LF date 02/11/15 venue Den Grå Hal, Copenhagen, DEN

Since I take over tonight for a sick co-reviewer, I haven't listened up on the music of the Canadian post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor as much as I'd have liked before going to review the show. As it turns out, however, really great bands will impress whether their listeners come prepared or not and almost no matter the conditions otherwise surrounding their art. As fans will know, the band has always had a strong visual aspect accompanying their music too and have thus for years collaborated with different visual artists. Tonight that aspect has been further underlined as the show is a part of a series of AUDIO:VISUALS by the film-festival CPH:DOX. It is thus preceded by a screening (for those of us who have secured one of the tickets in time) of the Japanese cult documentary from 1976 from which the band takes its name - a somewhat fitting and profound but also unusual warm-up experience to the band's performance. Before we get to that, though, there is the matter of the support act, Tashi Dorji.

All pictures by Philip B. Hansen

Tashi Dorji

In the spacious room that is Den Grå Hal, with many people talking you could be forgiven for taking a while to notice that something begins droning more and more loudly from the stage. The experimental, improvisational guitarist Tashi Dorji doesn't exactly call attention to himself other than through the sounds of his guitar and thus it takes a few seconds to locate him as well. He sits hidden under a black hoodie on a chair to the right side of the stage, crouching over his instrument for the duration of the half-hour-long set. His music is created by him seemingly looping different drones and sounds from his guitar, thus slowly building up a multi-layered sound that is at times very odd to listen to. This droning, atmospheric way of building music is also an element that can be found with the headlining band tonight, but Tashi Dorji seems to refrain from supplementing this with melodic elements in any way. No evolution of harmonies dominate the picture and at best the sounds remind me of meditative music - at one point his guitar actually sounds like the deep, hollow sound of a bell calling to prayer. Many of the people who have gathered in front of the stage seem willing enough to let the music work on them over time, but nobody ever seems to get really into the weird vibes. While I'm largely sympathetic towards this kind of experimentalism, it's not the easiest listening. During the performance tonight, we do not receive much help at all to comprehend or relate to the artist or his music, and that makes for a show with a rather weak impact despite the obvious instrumental skills of the performer and the fascinating array of sounds he bestows upon us.

5

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

For a band as important for the post-rock genre as this one, there's a lot to live up to. I have never seen them live in action before tonight and thus I don't know what to expect but nevertheless, I've been excited about the show for days because I have only heard praise from others. It's been some time since I last saw this many people on a stage creating music together, this in itself being a certain kind of fascinating experience. At the times when everyone is active on stage tonight, I count eight in total but, in general, the band members are great at fluctuating, giving each other space, some of them stepping to the side of the stage and away from their instruments when they have no role to play in the music. The fact that the band includes such a number and indeed variety of instruments in their sound is certainly one of the reasons why their music just sounds absolutely magical. The way their songs are built recalls huge symphonic movements at times but contrasted with a keen attention to pristine detail that ensures that no matter when you choose to listen extra carefully, you're never bored for a second. For the most part, their set tonight is a loud one and the more crushing, heavy parts that show themselves especially during the latter half really shape their sound as a force to be reckoned with.

As if that wasn't enough, to accompany the majesty of this music tonight, our eyes are also treated by the live-edited visuals from the film-artist Karl Lemieux who stands on his own platform above the sound-desk with four projectors and many meters of filmstrips at his disposal. With this equipment, he projects moving pictures on the stage's white backdrop and his art works to support the music and guide our attention to different moods or figures in it, just as well as the music pulls forward different elements in the pictures. It's not so much that the music needs the visuals because it isn't capable of standing on its own as it is the fact that in combination with the visuals, new meanings are created and new facets show their face. The very best moments of the show are certainly channeled through this exchange between art forms, one especially striking combination taking place during "World Police and Friendly Fire" accompanied by red and orange clips of smoking, industrial buildings that seem to be devoured by raging fires (check out this to get a glimpse of what I'm talking about).

All this being said it is clear that there is a certain progression in the set and in the quality of the sound as well that makes the show culminate in several ways during the last of the show's two hours. For the duration of the first hour, the experience is fascinating for sure but not nearly as captivating as it becomes during the second. In conclusion, we're witness to a great show tonight and there's not much about this band's way of doing things to be unsatisfied about. Even when things external to the composed music aren't perfect, its quality shines through and we experience something pristine that not a lot of bands can get across this well neither live nor on record.

Setlist:

  • 1. Hope Drone
  • 2. Lift Yr. Skinny Fists, Like Antennas to Heaven
  • 3. Gathering Storm
  • 4. Peasantry or 'Light! Inside of Light!'
  • 5. Lamb's Breath
  • 6. Asunder, Sweet
  • 7. Piss Crowns Are Trebled
  • 8. Chart #3
  • 9. World Police and Friendly Fire
  • 10. Unknown, new song
  • 11. The Sad Mafioso

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