Late gig review #1 – Godspeed You! Black Emperor

November proved to be one of my more organised months which means that I managed to get out and see some live music. I believe the appropriate phrase is, ‘Yay!’

So way back on the 4th November I saw Godspeed You! Black Emperor at the Kentish Town forum. First off, they are not normally the kind of band that I go to see. I don’t have a problem with post-rock and sprawling orchestrated crescendos lasting 20 minutes per se, but equally I like it more through headphones. I will confess to having had a bad experience at a Mogwai gig in the past too…

That said, I caught a stream of the new album, Hallelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (which I automatically dislike on editorial grounds for abuse of the exclamation mark) and really enjoyed it. Mladic in particular. So I was reasonably excited to go to the gig despite knowing pretty much exactly what was going to happen.

Which is exactly what happened. If I was being factual I would say that we stood there for a couple of hours whilst the band noodled away at full volume, the cellist slid fingers up and down the neck like a salacious teenager hoping for his first ever touch of boob, some guy waggled fingers and novelty-sized contact lenses in front of old projectors and the films prompted the comment from one of my friends, ‘I keep getting the feeling that they’re trying to do “Art” at me.’ No-one on stage moved. No-one in the crowd moved – apart from one guy who briefly made a misguided attempt to film part of it, but then realised his mistake was his alone and put the offensive LCD screen away in shame, but let’s not count him. If I was being entirely pedantic I’d say that I only worked out the first tune (track? song? expanse?) was Mladic about 20 minutes in, and that all four of the pieces performed sounded very similar indeed.

However, that would be to miss the point somewhat. For one thing the visuals were frequently hypnotic, with my favourite being an old film reel of a house spinning to random points and quickly being burnt through by a heated lamp. I’ve always been a sucker for fire, melting things and the like admittedly, but I couldn’t stop looking at it.

Much more importantly, was how I found myself utterly blissed out and reaching a point of quite surprising lucidity. I found myself thinking about the book (as I do a lot at the moment (49,635)) and a few of the significant problems and questions I had been avoiding simply dissolved. As I stood there washing myself in this massive cacophony I found it kind of unfolding in front of me. No more block, just a burning desire to write it all down before I forgot it all, in case the music was responsible. I didn’t always listen to the music, I didn’t need to, but I did roll around in a rare and productive clarity, smirking quite smugly to myself as it all started to fall into place.

It certainly wasn’t the best performance I’ve ever seen, but the experience was something very distinctive that I in all honesty treasure. I’m nervous to go back and try to recapture it in fact because I suspect this was one of those ephemeral moments that would only be diluted by greed, and I do try not to be greedy.