Godspeed You! Black Emperor Storms Brooklyn, Shattering Eardrums And Psyches: Live Review

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Live
4.5
Godspeed You! Black Emperor 
<p>For the uninitiated, <a href="http://www.billboard.com/artist/6524657/godspeed-you-black-emperor/chart">Godspeed You! Black Emperor</a> are a veteran instrumental octet from Montreal whose music combines such drastic extremes --&nbsp;gorgeous melodies and deafening cacophony, beauty and ugliness, pin-drop quiet and innard-rattling volume, and, as they put it, “orchestral dynamics and epic rock power” --&nbsp;that their concerts can be physically and emotionally draining experiences. It’s not an aural endurance test like a noise or death-metal act, but more like a film or novel that wildly ricochets the viewer between happiness and sadness every 15 minutes; hearing their music is like watching time-lapse footage of a storm-lashed Alpine setting as seasons cycle past.&nbsp;</p><p>The musicians -- who played&nbsp;<span style="line-height: 20.8px;">Brooklyn’s Warsaw on Thursday </span><span style="line-height: 20.8px;">night in the last of three local sold-out appearances&nbsp;--&nbsp;</span>have a quintessentially Quebecois willfulness that manifests itself in everything they do, including their fierce independence, their vaguely anarchist political stance, their anonymous public persona, and not least their attitude toward the music business: Upon winning Canada's prestigious Polaris Prize in 2013, the band&nbsp;members issued an <a href="http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/global/5720517/godspeed-you-black-emperor-takes-polaris-prize-will-donate-30k">expletive-filled statement </a>saying "Thanks, we are grateful and humble” before going on to criticize the expense and competitive nature of awards shows and the fact that it was sponsored by Toyota “during a summer where the melting northern ice caps are live-streaming on the internet,” which they deemed “F---ING INSANE, and tone-deaf to the current horrifying malaise.” They then said they would put the $30,000 award money toward establishing musical programs for people incarcerated in Quebec's prisons.&nbsp;(How’s that for an acceptance speech?)&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/global/5720517/godspeed-you-black-emperor-takes-polaris-prize-will-donate-30k">Godspeed You! Black Emperor Takes Polaris Prize, Will Donate&nbsp;$30K</a></p><p>All of the above speaks volumes about the group’s music. They perform on a darkened stage, accompanied by flickering black-and-while films --&nbsp;not videos --&nbsp;of buildings and trees and clouds and technical drawings, operated live by a projectionist who’s as much a part of the band as the&nbsp;musicians. Musically, Godspeed tantalizes: Approximately 30 percent of their time is focused on soaring, exhilarating climaxes; the rest is spent building up to them or coming down, via drones and hums or deceptively complex countermelodies that overlap and build on each other, until it all rushes into a long climax and then gradually fades off. (For examples of how beautiful their music can be, listen to “Moya” from their 1998 EP <em>Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada</em> or “Storm” from 2000’s <em>Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven</em>; for a sample of how ominous it can be, listen to “Peasantry or ‘Light Inside of Light’” from this year’s <em>Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress</em>.)&nbsp;</p><p>As always, the group soared back and forth between those extremes at Warsaw. Godspeed's lineup is built equally around low and high frequencies: two bassists and two drummers provide a low end that hits such subterranean realms that the hair on your arms vibrates even at the back of the hall; a violinist and three electric guitarists --&nbsp;who played seated so they can operate the dense thicket of pedals and effects that take up approximately half of the stage’s floorspace&nbsp;--&nbsp;create the songs' soaring melodic heft or skin-piecing screeches. While the group's music is often classically based, much of what sounds orchestral is actually emanating from the guitars, which can sound like cicadas or cement mixers or violins or dive bombers --&nbsp;basically anything but guitars.&nbsp;</p><p>So it went for approximately two hours --&nbsp;“approximately” because it's hard to tell when the show actually began or ended. It essentially started whenever you noticed the low, pulsating drone that, over the course of 15 minutes, grew louder until the band&nbsp;members gradually, individually came onstage and began playing the mighty “Piss Crowns Are Trebled” from the latest album, a process that was basically reversed at the end, as the guitars, violin and basses fed back and droned long after the musicians exited the stage. Eventually one of the drummers walked on and turned several of them down or off --&nbsp;giving a distracted wave as he left the stage that was the band’s only acknowledgement of the audience all night --&nbsp;but the sound continued humming even as the bouncers ushered the crowd from the room, creating the impression of an infinity loop that will go on until the next time the band walks onstage.&nbsp;</p><p>The show was opened by a drastically different but Godspeed-selected band: Downtown Boys (comprised, of course, of three women and two men) from Providence, R.I.,&nbsp;who are, broadly speaking, a hardcore band but have chops and attitude that vaults them far beyond that genre, and not just because they’ve got a badass sax player (not to mention guitarist Joey DeFrancesco: semi-relatedly, a video of him <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/19/joey-quits-hotel-worker-video_n_1019579.html">quitting his job at a Providence hotel</a> went viral in 2011). &nbsp;The songs often start off with a fast, choppy riff and shouting, but shift gears into slower, tension-building sections, all driven by Victoria Ruiz’s fiery vocals and bilingual lyrics, which, it says in their press materials, assail “the prison-industrial complex, racism, queerphobia, capitalism, fascism, boredom, and all things people use to try to close our minds, eyes and hearts.” While the specifics of that message are sometimes lost in the din, the attitude comes across in spades.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p>