At work I'm often asked who I'm off to see next, my appetite for live music precedes me at this stage, and it's always an interesting experience to see the reactions I receive. In this instance my answer of "Influential and critically acclaimed Canadian Post-rock anarchists Godspeed You! Black Emperor" gained a fair few head scratches and eye rolls, but that only further fuelled my excitement for the evening's entertainment.
See, while the band aren't 'mainstream successful', they certainly boast a cult following, and you'd be hard pushed to find a single of their concerts that doesn't sell out. As I walked into Shepherd's Bush Empire early, and past the anarchist book sale set up alongside the merch, the venue was already almost full to greet the support act - something that is rarely seen these days. Equally left field act Xylouris White had the task of warming up the audience, and their unique mix of a Greek lute player and an Australian drummer was definitely unexpected, but interesting all the same, and the crowd definitely warmed to them as they played for as long as they possibly could before leaving.
As the Godspeed members slowly trickled out onto the stage, each one started to play their instruments individually until they were all in unison, and opening with 'Hope Drone', which was set to the band's constant flickering film projections, for which they have a dedicated member running throughout their shows.
Endless abandoned city skylines and half built skyscrapers were intercut with nameless schematics as the band moved into a new, unnamed song, and then as the pounding, merciless 'Mladic', from 2012's comeback album Hallelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!, rung out, the imagery cut to what appeared to be prisoner records which was fairly fitting for a song named after the despicable Bosnian-Serbian military leader who is accused of genocide.
Godspeed don't just write songs, they compose movements, and the vast, sprawling nature of these compositions (most of which clock in at around 20 minutes) makes for an incredible act of endurance for the musicians, as well as for the audience to an extent. As 'Mladic' closed, drummer Aidan Girt walked away from his drum set shaking his arms to try and disperse the inevitable lactic acid buildup that comes from playing such an intense song for such a long time.
The tour was in support of the band's most recent LP Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress, which they set to playing the album in full. Whilst I don't believe it to be one of their best records, 'Peasantry Or 'Light! Inside Of Light!'' sounded great live. ' Lambs' Breath' & 'Asunder, Sweet' are both nothing tracks but 'Piss Crowns Are Trebled' definitely stood out as something special.
As they began their final efforts, 'The Sad Mafioso', the centrepiece of 'East Hastings' from 1996's F#A#infinity, the crowd roared in excitement for what was to come. It's a beautiful number that ramps up the energy and emotion until the very last moment, and proved to be a brilliant way to end.
The band, comprising of eight members (1 woman and 7 men), walked on stage at around 9:15pm, and walked off again at approximately 11:15pm, without having said a single word, and yet their performance left me speechless as well. What was gloriously refreshing to see was that there wasn't a single personality on stage, they simply stood or sat and played a set that reinforces the sheer power of music. No words were needed to move and captivate 2000 people.
A howling cacophony of noise, Godspeed You! Black Emperor will either sweep you up and hold you in their grasp, or spit you out and leave you dumbfounded in their wake. I, for one, find solace and beauty in the chaos, their performance often daunting but ultimately breathtaking. I acknowledge and appreciate that I am prone to being slightly melodramatic at times, but I truly witnessed something special that night.