Tuesday, March 29, 2011
review- godspeed you! black emperor at the vic- 3.28.11
Sorry, Chicago, but London has you beaten by miles. Say what you will about the English, but they are a well-behaved bunch at live shows. I’m beginning to think that my four months in London seeing tons and tons of amazing shows ruined my show-going life forever more and it wasn’t until seeing godspeed at the Vic tonight that I realised this. Yup, I used the English spelling. You had your personal space, people weren’t constantly pushing past you like you weren’t there to get closer to the action or elbowing their way to the bar the entire night and everyone also *gasp* listened to and cared about the music considerately. My first time seeing godspeed was at the Scala in seedy King’s Cross while on an exchange program during my junior year of college. It was how my parents convinced me to stay in college- they sent me to London for four months and gave me $900 a month to do whatever I wanted with. I saw a show practically every week and at least ten of these shows ended up being pivotal experiences in my long and illustrious show-going life—Radiohead in Glasgow, Scotland on the tent tour, Elliott Smith at the Forum in Kentish Town and I even managed to see Bright Eyes in a teeny bar in Camden and Modest Mouse at the Garage in Highbury for £7. Godspeed at the Scala has long been one of the most special shows I’ve ever attended. I recorded the show that night and cherish few of my recordings as much as that one. The crowd was at rapt attention the entire time- during the quiet moments you could hear a pin drop it was so still and then the band would build up to ungodly heights of volume. Nothing fell short of astonishing the entire night.
Last night I’d say outdid the London show in length (over two hours), visually (the projections were all gorgeous- the stop-motion loops of smoke-stacks and bridges during 'Monheim' were quite stirring) and in emotional intensity—I’ve been to very few shows that have stirred me up emotionally in the same way. Sigur Rós at the Civic Opera House in 2006 springs to mind (I almost cried about five times during one song), but this was different—this was ‘Dancer in the Dark’ intense by the end. Perhaps this was what made the petty annoyances of the way that the people around me were behaving as inescapably irritating as I found them. It’s long been a gripe of mine at shows that people as a whole seem empirically incapable of sitting and enjoying music without acting like inconsiderate little ids the entire time (i.e. talking loudly during quiet ‘boring’ bits, making sure that they have a beer to suck down during every second they are present no matter how many people they have to elbow and push through to accomplish this, texting, tweeting, facebooking, snapping crappy photos on their cellphones, what have you). I had the displeasure of standing next to someone who felt the need to narrate every little thought he was having to his friend the entire time—‘dude, this is the song that was in ‘Friday Night Lights,’’ ‘Whoa, fucking amazing!’ ‘This part’s kind of boring,’ etc. Someone near me even dropped a fartbomb at one point—a first for me in over sixteen years of going to shows. There was a man dancing maniacally the entire time to my right—the people in that section gave him a good ten foot berth to either side which he took full advantage of. As irritating as I found his need to take up that much room and make such a spectacle of himself (I suppose it’s not enough to enjoy a show yourself, you should do your best to make it as much about you as anything else for those around you) it did teach me a valuable lesson that also holds true when you feel uncomfortable during your late night subway ride home—just pretend you’re nuts and people will give more than enough personal space and leave you alone. By the end of the evening the dancing guy was the least annoying part of the entire experience—at least he was enjoying the music.
Now that I’ve gotten the venting out of the way, the setlist was completely different from the previous time I’d seen them with the addition of two new songs that I’d never heard (maybe I should call them ‘pieces’ as ‘songs’ isn’t really a proper description of godspeed’s body of work)—in my searches for sound recordings on archive.org (I highly recommend you check some of these recordings out, by the way) they are referred to as ‘Hope Drone’ (which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like—a largely structureless piece built from absolutely nothing that they opened with) and ‘Albanian’—which I would describe as an admirable exercise in Spacemen 3-style droning minimalism during its main movement before it gave way to their penchant for more ornate and repeated wind-downs and wind-ups and unlike anything they have ever done before. Once they broke into the more ornate sections of ‘Albanian’ I have to admit that I found myself pining for a more droning minimal approach favored (and accomplished excellently) by the Warlocks. They played the title track from ‘Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven’ (or ‘Levez Vos Skinny Fists Comme Antennas to Heaven’ for every other country the record was released in) second which I found to be the highlight of the evening (that one’s a personal favourite of mine). They played a lot more of their slower, moodier pieces that were less prone to explosion—i.e. ‘Monheim’ and ‘World Police/Friendly Fire.’ The ending triplet was brutally affecting and by the end of ‘Blaise Bailey Finnegan III’ I was having some pretty dark thoughts (it’s been a rough month). ‘Slow Moving Trains’/’The Cowboy’ was particularly breathtaking to hear live as I’d never really seen an example or heard tell of them playing it at these recent shows. ‘Dead Metheny’ was good to hear again (that and ‘Lift Yr. Skinny Fists…’ were the only two that they’d played at the Scala all those years ago). The only bummer for me was that they didn’t play ‘Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls’ which is the best godspeed piece in their entire ouvré and blew my socks off completely when I witnessed it live in London. The recorded version of it on ‘Yanqui U.X.O.’ doesn’t even come close.
During ‘Blaise Bailey Finnegan III’ I found myself pulled inexorably into the bleakest tenets of their music. The song is dense, long, unyieldingly intense and possibly the most depressing, hopeless piece of music I’ve ever heard in my life. I’m certainly not the type of person to shy away from depressing music, either—just look at any of my diary playlists. I’ve never listened to it much as I have some bitter memories associated with it. My introduction to godspeed was through this song and it happened when I was driving a friend back to Lawrence, KS from Kansas City after a thoroughly disheartening and disappointing band practice. This friend was in two bands with me at that time and we would try to practice for both bands (one band was an infant version of shalloboi and the other was a hardcore band that was largely the pet of my best friend at the time), but my best friend at the time would often skip over shalloboi practice in favor of the other band while also somehow convincing me to pick up and drive home this friend from Lawrence despite the fact that I was constantly getting screwed out of practice for my own band. Given this memory and the nature of the song it puts me in a bit of an odd place and because of this I’ve never listened to it much. By the end of it it was quite clear that there would be no encore. In the interest of a little levity Stefanie and I went to Schuba’s to have a drink with my friend who had played there that night.
It appears that godspeed have finally returned from their eight-year disappearance into tangential side-projects. Throughout the show a particularly loud-mouthed audience member kept making strange comments (‘It’s my birthday!’ for example), however, one comment was quite poignant—in the middle of the show she called out, ‘We missed you! Never go away again!’ Fair enough.
for your consideration-
2011.03.28- the vic- chicago, il
2000.11.22- the scala- london, uk (taped by yours truly with a tape recorder purchased at best buy for $20)