It’s a strange thing, a Godspeed You! Black Emperor concert on Valentine’s Day – the Canadian post-rock giants aren’t Romantic in the traditional sense of the word. It is, however, easy to identify some Romanticism within the band’s art: extremes of emotion, resistance to popular notions of form and function, as well as flashes of a sublime Otherness somehow conjured without words ever being vocalised. Yes, the Enmore’s stage may be lit quite dimly, but this is done only to place emphasis on the humbling audiovisual experience a Godspeed live show can create.
Local laptop musician Pimmon, aka Paul Gough, teases the crowd with soundscapes ranging from the gentle, nuanced and ambient to the harsh, industrial and drone-driven. Backed by his own projected visuals, Gough sets the evening’s mood perfectly, his work reminding me of William Basinski’s terrific 2002 album The Disintegration Loops.
Godspeed meander towards their respective instruments, backed by their slow-rising opener Hope Drone. Huddled in quite close proximity to each other in the middle of the stage, The Enmore suddenly feels like an intimate rehearsal room, but as the band sink into Mladic, the most powerful track off their 2012 album Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, it becomes clear that this intimacy is just an illusion.
What’s striking is just how much emotion one band can evoke by relying solely on music – its tones, its textures, its peaks and its troughs. There’s little doubt that this process is aided by the visuals projected behind the band, which include industrial, environmental and historical imagery, but Godspeed’s ability to be cinematic comes from their innately powerful musical aesthetic.
The tracks in the middle of Godspeed’s set seem to bleed into each other, leading to some quite dynamic changes in the venue’s vibe. The melodramatic Moya, a song written over a decade ago, becomes uplifting and anthemic before sinking into the dark screams of Monheim. Sitting in his chair, guitarist Efrim Menuck shakes his leg almost unconsciously in anticipation of these falls and swells, somehow reflecting the audience’s continued anticipation.
The aptly named 45-minute-long closer Behemoth allows more than half the band to crowd around their pedals for some large sections of drone and noise, before returning to their instruments to finish the night off with some powerful melodies and some relentless, quick-marching percussion.
Despite this being the very first Australian tour from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, it is difficult to see how this fact would disappoint their already well-established fan base. There’s something very inviting and familiar about the band in a live setting. They don’t dance around precariously, hold your attention for only a few minutes at a time or blind you with lights and pyrotechnics. Why? Because they’re forever more Romantic than your typical rock-stars.
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