I made plans some time ago to go see this one with one of my cousins, which is incredibly appropriate since he's the one responsible for introducing me to the post-rock genre a few years ago, and in particular, introducing me to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. There's not another soul I know (personally) whose musical tastes, and whose reasons for listening to music, are so similar and so compatible with mine. With that said, this was an incredibly highly anticipated event for me. When GY!BE announced the tour back in September I could hardly believe it. But at the same time I figured it would happen eventually, considering the greatness of the project. It comes as no surprise that this band has sold out nearly every venue it's been hosted by, including Athens, GA.
I had to do some research before this show, which has been an ongoing thing for a few weeks now, not because I was unfamiliar with the band's music, but because I'm still not completely familiar with all the subnames of the songs. I'm only real familiar with the full names of the tracks (i.e.: " Sleep," Static," "Providence," etc etc). I know a few subnames of particular portions of tracks I like, but not all of them.
First of all, it should be known that I had to sacrifice a day of school to attend this show, which meant rescheduling an exam. Since it was roughly a 5-hour drive from northwestern NC to Athens, and the show ended at 1:00am, it put me back around 6:00am, on a day of two exams (on top of the one I had to reschedule). As far as school goes, the timing could't have been worse. But it was the chance I took when I ordered these tickets before the start of the semester, and the bad timing didn't come as a surprise. Nevertheless, nothing was stopping me from going to this show.
Athens is a real neat town. It reminded me a lot of Asheville or Wilmington in that it's maintained an element of natural beauty despite being metropolitan. Plus, it just has that hipster vibe to it. This show was right in downtown. Upon arrival, I wasn't surprised Godspeed You! Black Emperor chose it as their one destination of the South.
After eating at a local pizza restaurant, we walked down to the venue and got in line outside and stood there, waiting, for at least an hour. Everyone was really friendly. Two dudes inside the venue told us they'd driven 14 hours from Texas. I thought "holy shit… I thought I was a hardcore Godspeed fan…" I wouldn't be surprised if the band is anti-South. We should probably consider ourselves lucky they managed one date as far south as Georgia.
I was surprised they had merch for sale. I figured the band was anti-merch as well. I remember reading somewhere their philosophy was "make your own Godspeed You! Black Emperor t-shirt." They're so anti-capitalism and consumerism. I'll bet Constellation forced them to sell some stuff. They had two t-shirts for sale at $20 each, all their albums, and a beautiful glossy silkscreen poster for $20. I went with the poster. (See picture below)
As far as standing position in front of the stage, we were pretty close to the front. There might've been two rows of people in front of us? The most irritating part of the night was crowd chatter during the opening act. The opener was an individual artist who played multiple guitars. He was actually really impressive and technically proficient. His playing reminded me of Trace Bundy (except he probably wasn't quite that good), with more wailing and capo switches. He was extremely kind and gracious considering the rudeness from his audience.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor Setlist:
1. Hope Drone
2. Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
3. Gathering Storm
4. "Murray Ostril" ...They Don't Sleep Anymore on the Beach
6. 9-15-00 (outro) / The Albanian
7. Atomic Clock
8. Chart #3
9. World Police and Friendly Fire
10. Slow Moving Trains
11. The Cowboy
13. Blaise Bailey Finnegan III
14. String Loop Manufactured During Downpour… [Outro]
The only one I'm not positive about is the outro to 9-15-00 played after Monheim. They played a lot of interludes in-between songs, a lot of which were hard to decipher, and they ran together. They definitely played something between Monheim and Atomic clock. It might have been a snippet of The Albanian, a track I'm fairly unfamiliar with, but I'm not confident. They might have mixed 9-15-00 and The Albanian together (which I feel was probably the case, but again, not sure). One thing became apparent after seeing this band live, and my cousin commented on it as well. Just like A Silver Mt. Zion, this band is incredibly influenced by free jazz. A lot of their interludes were very chaotic and uncoerced, much like in free jazz. I think the chaotic aspect of their music is probably symbolic to their anarchistic tendencies. A lot of their songs disintegrate from something beautiful into something chaotic and tumultuous. They did this even more so live. Blaise Bailey Finnegan III, at around the 14:00 or 15:00 minute mark, went into something highly varied from what it sounded like on Slow Riot
. We didn't get that dark, brooding, unsettling outro. We got a calamitous array of distorted instrumentation. The intro, Hope Drone, is another example, as is virtually all the interludes that consisted of tons of feedback and reverb.
I've come to realize nearly everything this band does is done to convey a message. Whether it's the monologues or voice tracks (and the music that encompasses them), the song titles, the sound that's meant to evoke a particular emotion, the artwork… nothing is inconsequential. The film loops are no exception. The films played during the set were fantastic. Nicely contrasted. My favorites were the ones, I think played during Moya, that consisted of ancient script-type writing, and even occultist symbols. Some also looked to be Hebrew. Others included typed texts from war documents. They flashed so quickly I could't make out what they said, for the ones in English that is. I only saw single words as I focused in, and that was enough to let me know they were documents regarding wars or foreign policy of some type (very fitting for BBF3).
I also liked how the band did absolutely no talking during the show. One track ran into another. It was like one long 2 1/2 hour cohesive piece of music, woven together.
As I expected, they sounded amazing. Monheim and Moya, in my opinion, were the best played tracks of the night. My cousin liked what they did with BBF3. I honestly couldn't have asked for a better setlist. I'm not sure there's a single "bad" part to any Godspeed song. It's just some are better than others, and they played a lot of good ones last night. Not to boast, but I think Athens might've gotten the best setlist of the tour so far. The only song missing that would've been amazing to hear, that they've played at a few previous shows (DC for sure), is The Sad Mafioso. But the set ran well over two hours as is. It was very strategic for them to put on that recording of String Loop Manufactured During Downpour as an outro. It prevented the audience from being able to ask for an encore. They slowly left the stage one by one, waving to the audience as they went, while we listened to "where are you going?" over and over along with the droning of distorted guitars. It was awesome.
Just to critique though, there were some variances I wasn't crazy about. One of them was Efrim's slight switching of the notes played during Chart #3. Recall the notes of the gentle atmospheric strumming of the guitar while we listen to that insane man describe his dream about passing through corridors and dark serpentines and penetrating to the most high god. Yeah, Efrim didn't play those notes as they were on the album. Also, there was no trumpet or French horn in Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. That one's pretty picky, but it's something I noticed; I'm sure there's nothing they could have done about it. I don't think any of them even play horns. Also, during the same track (Lift Yr. Skinny Fists), maybe it was just me, but the drum beat seemed a little different.
When you know material backwards and forwards, even the slightest variance is immediately noticeable.
During World Police and Friendly Fire.
I had a better picture of the venue, but some skank walked right in front of the camera when I took it.
Simply put, I've never been to a show like this before. It was absolutely fantastic. If I didn't have school, I'd travel long distances to see it again. The show is unique because the band is unique. There is no other band that even comes close to being similar to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Now that I've seen them in concert, I can spend my days yearning for a new album.
EDIT: "Merch" instead of "mercy."