Live Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor @ The Vogue Theatre, Vancouver – September 4th 2013

I thought I was prepared, I honestly did. I thought that after years of listening to their music and hearing stories about their live show, I thought I was prepared for a Godspeed You! Black Emperor show. In reality, no experience could have had me set for the audio/visual spectacle of their September show. It was a night I had been waiting for since I was an angsty teenager first listening to Dead Flag Blues and later purchasing their much heralded Lift Your Skinny Fists like Antennas to the Heavens. Having missed their most recent Vancouver shows, this was a must attend and anticipation was at its breaking point. I thought I was prepared.

Having showed up later than my usual time, a large amount of people had already been let in. This had me optimistic that my waiting in line would be shorter than usual. On the contrary, it still made its way down Granville curling around the corner and down the next street. It was with this free time that I noticed the variation in the crowd; older people, ones with retirement plans and grey hairs, mingled with younger people discussing the genius and subtlety that made Godspeed such a praised band. It became immediately clear just how much of a centerpiece this unique band had become in the Canadian music scene. Just a year after the release of their latest album, their first in a decade, Godspeed had returned sparking the interest of music fans and reinvigorating passion that had since been possibly forgotten.

The opening act was just a single man under the moniker, Gate. Honestly, he wasn’t really disappointing or anything remarkable. Sounding like an angsty Zimmer soundtrack slowed down with little subtlety, all moments of intricacy were drowned under distortion becoming indistinguishable and nearly impossible to appreciate. It was a sound I was expecting, but the quality was unfortunately lacking. Furthermore, as a “drone” act, or whatever he may describe himself as, you need to find a way to make your music slightly more engaging. Godspeed did it with a stunning visual accompaniment. Sitting in one place, never doing as much as looking up and acknowledging the crowd made the whole experience fall flat. It’s a shame because I could tell that it was really good at what it was; there were moments where I heard incredibly new and fresh takes on that style of music. But in the end, I felt like I was halfway through a game of Monopoly with nothing to show asking myself “What was all that for?”

After Gate finished and the lights came back on, my anticipation for the night ahead only grew. Gate may have been a tad disappointing, but Godspeed was legendary. Not only were they highly regarded for their studio work, but their live shows have been praised time and time again. Eventually the lights dimmed. Darker figures in an already dark room slowly made their way on stage adding to a swelling of instruments. A moment more than 5 years in the waiting was finally happening. Godspeed You! Black Emperor had arrived.

All bias aside, the show was a spectacle. Whereas most concerts will bring you theatrics and antics, Godspeed was not unlike watching a live score for a movie. Perfectly partnered with grainy footage of varying themes, the evening felt like a constantly conforming soundtrack to the images on screen. If someone hadn’t known their music, it would have been easy to mistake the music being played to have been based on the flashing images. Most powerful of all was when as the swelling grew, a single word that looked scratched out appeared on top of the shots: “Hope.” This was a band with mysterious messages and themes ingrained in its music and having it paired like that made it oddly poignant and moving. The evoking of emotion stayed through the entire set, a set that brought awe to the crowd.

As an aside, I feel obliged to mention that people shouldn’t go to a Godspeed show and expect grandiose stage theatrics. This is a band that prides itself on musical mastery and puts the music first. Of the 8 members on stage, 3 sat for pretty much the entire set right at the very front (one even had his chair turned so he could face his band members and not the audience). I mention this because I saw multiple people who were blatantly bored. It even went so far as some people, including someone in my vicinity, were very close to falling asleep. The essence of a God speed show is to play the music impeccably, and they did just that; the chemistry of the band was at a whole other level.

That’s not to say the show wasn’t visually enthralling. At many points, the images on the screen were very thought provoking and in the lulls where the music was less intense, the audience had a chance to just watch and think about what was being shown on stage.

September 4th was a night of awe and wonder. Some may argue that the lulls were too long or the show was “boring,” but this was simply because this was a band that defies conventions. A Godspeed concert isn’t like the typical outings; rather, it’s more similar to an orchestral performance. Regardless, I left that venue overflowing with fulfillment very pleased with everything I saw. Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a band that has always had permanence in the music business and their return to Vancouver solidified this fact tenfold. No rain or darkness could make me look back on that day with anything but pure amazement and a hint of childish glee.

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