One can only expect ear-splitting volumes when the stage is preloaded with two drum kits, three guitars, and enough effects units strewn across the floor that it is a wonder that none of the eight members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor land flat on their faces when entering one-by-one. It is apparent before anybody arrives that Sophie Trudeau’s violin will not sound much like a violin for the next two hours. While classical prowess is going in, vigorous and furious metal force will be coming out.
Therefore, it is of no surprise that tonight begins with a twenty-minute ‘Hope Drone’, which is exactly what it sounds like. Total cacophony against the background of a huge projector screen, upon which static and the word ‘hope’ provocatively strobes and flickers. However much this tempts jokes on how one might ‘hope’ for this grumbling horror to end as soon as possible, the fact that it is followed by another twenty-minute piece, this time named after warlord ‘Mladic’, says that that might be the way everybody present is meant to feel. It is post-rock battlefield doom and gloom, and it feels incredible.
This chaos sends everybody, both band and audience, into a state of deep concentration that doesn’t even seem possible when considering how the outrageous noise should be a maddening distraction. Yet it is the surprising intricacies of the whole band that are the fascinating distractions, having been absorbed into warzone imagery and sounds. It is all so surreal, and the mystique of what the band are doing onstage means that the precision, even throughout the entirety of the performance of latest album Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, is hypnotic. It is impossible to resist at least attempting to figure out where certain sounds are coming from (that damaged record crackling sound is coming from band founder Efrim Menuck’s muted guitar as he rolls a screwdriver against it) and what sound [insert instrument] will make were it played with a bow. After all, it can be guaranteed that at some point or another tonight, that cello bow will be handed even to the drummers.
Considering the political provocations of misery and hope throughout (whichever way round one might interpret it), one can’t help but wonder whether they have misunderstood what they have witnessed, especially as the performance closes with images of street protest as the background of the thumping and seemingly eternally accelerating ‘The Sad Mafioso’, with a coda resembling how tonight began – band members leaving one by one, without a word, leaving behind one member to tinker with the onstage pedals and amps for the following few minutes, but refusing the switch off the final speaker leaving the deep buzz to continue until the entire concert hall is emptied.
No one can even be sure that the performance even finished, and that it won’t ‘continue’ at tomorrow’s tour date, leaving behind realization of misery, yet bringing with it whatever ‘hope’ that it can. Godspeed is a unique experience where everybody can be glad to be suitably confused.