One could say that the recent boom in post-rock and -metal is entirely due to one band: Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The strangely punctuated Canadian troupe can be given credit for most trends in the scene; from ideas like long, bizarre album names (i.e. Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven) to the concept of sweeping crescendos, these guys were the pioneers. After 7 years of having hung up the towel, it was hard to not be excited when they announced a reunion tour. Tickets for most shows sold out in a matter of only a few hours and everyone, myself included, geared up for a show to remember.
The first of three performances in the Bay Area was at The Warfield in the heart of San Francisco. Opening up was the Al Cisneros’ (Sleep, Shrinebuilder) group Om. Being the closest thing I know of to literal drum and bass (not like the electronic genre), they played their hypnotic, druggy rhythms for about 40 minutes with a little help from Robert A. Lowe of Lichens and Jackie Perez Gratz of Giant Squid, Amber Asylum and Grayceon. Lowe provided touches of keyboards, guitars, and vocals while Perez played flute and cello on a few songs. It was nothing too drastic for purist fans of the band, but just enough to beef up their sound.
After a tedious wait of 30 minutes while the stage was set up for GY!BE, the main event got ready to strut their stuff. First up on the setlist was an unreleased noisy buildup of feedback and other assorted sounds while the word “HOPE” flashed behind it all. This led into “Storm”, of which they played the first 16 minutes or so of. Unfortunately, they did not have any of the session musicians from Skinny Fists to play with them, thus leaving the horns out. Nonetheless, it was incredible to witness the track played with such precision—every detail on the guitar tone, drums, violin, and bass was perfect. It was easy to tell that the hiatus didn’t change their ability to play their music.
They kept up with more cuts from the seminal album and segued into “Monheim”, the first movement of my personal favorite GY!BE composition, “Sleep”. If there has ever been a song that managed to tell an incredible tragedy barring the use of words, it would be this one. Efrim Menuck’s guitar was an emotional A-bomb while Sophie Trudeau’s violin contributed the touches that make Godspeed‘s sound so unique. The only bummer for me was that they didn’t play the rest of the suite, which finishes on a note so bittersweet that it could move mountains.
The band continued for two more hours, climbing to peaks and descending into valleys. At the conclusion of the evening, they fell into another feedbacky drone which lasted about 10 minutes. Each member of the eight-piece ensemble peeled off one-by-one. As they departed, they waved goodbye to the crowd and disappeared off to wherever it is musicians go backstage. Guitarist David Bryant was the last to leave.
Over the past year, I feel honored to have witnessed Isis end their career and Godspeed You! Black Emperor restart theirs. Both were memorable shows and I look forward to seeing artists of similar stature arise over the course of this next decade. 2010 was a promising start. Let’s see what the next 9 years throw our way.
Setlist retrieved from metalsetlists.com:
They Don’t Sleep Anymore on the Beach
World Police and Friendly Fire
Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls