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Godspeed You! Black Emperor Show Review: Something Different

Canadian band Godspeed You! Black Emperor is known as one of the preeminent fathers of post-rock, and rightfully so. While their music is largely free of lyrics, the clattering rise of sounds strikes listeners like no other music does. Godspeed tests the limits of noise and tinkers with the expectations of an audience. Fans endure because the ride serves as its own reward.

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Photo by Zev Izenberg

Lacking the patterns typically found in other genres, Godspeed You! Black Emperor implore their listeners to focus on the present moment. As a longtime fan of Godspeed, it was astounding to see the music take shape live. On March 9 at Columbus Theatre, the band played the entirety of their latest album, Luciferian Towers. The music includes soundbites from everyday life: the intercom system of an airport, reminding you not to leave luggage unattended; a subway overhead voice, telling you to steer clear of closing doors; a preacher on the street whom no one seems to stop and listen to.

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Photo by Zev Izenberg

Godspeed duplicated the soundbites live through projection of tape that they manipulated in real time. Members of the crew projected short, looped films onto a screen behind the band. During the intense build-up of “Anthem for No State,” salient political footage loomed in the background, reminding the audience of the fragility of our time. Sterile, abandoned Japanese buildings grazed the screen from top to bottom. Artists tore footage live and projected it onto the screen, overlaying images in order to produce a blend of oneness among contrasting images of nature and man-made atrocity.

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Photo by Zev Izenberg

The quintessential action of the band came at the very end of the concert, when each member individually struck the final chord and left their electric instruments buzzing sharply on the ground. The show ended with about 10 instruments bleeding into each other at a high-pitched frequency, emanating noises that would generally upset a listener; yet, in this context, they proved rhythmically soothing. In the background after each band member left shined a burning forest, as the screeches of the amplifiers came together to form a ravenously captivating sonic narrative.

The audience sat through the entire concert as though watching a play, and didn’t leave until a good 20 minutes after the band had left the stage and the film had burned itself through. It was as if we had led a life together there in the span of two hours, listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor build and drop out at unexpected times, to our surprise and delight. The experience was unlike any other concert I’ve attended. In the end, we shared ourselves with each other and became one without saying a word.

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