Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor at the Melbourne Recital Centre, January 22 2018
Five years ago, Australian fans were treated with the news that mysterious experimental music collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor were set to tour Australia for the first time. Considering the band had formed over two decades ago by this point, and they had endured a seven-year period of hiatus in the process, it was safe to say local audiences thought this was a series of concerts that would never happen.
Fast forward five years, and despite this now being Godspeed’s third visit to Australian shores, audiences are showing no sign of taking their local performances for granted, choosing instead to pack into the Melbourne Recital Centre like it’s the last time they may ever see this group.
Kicking off proceedings for the evening was Norway’s Mette Rasmussen who helped to prime the crowd with her unique brand of improvised saxophone playing. A long figure on the stage, Rasmussen’s prowess on her instrument of choice is immediately clear, attempting to force every possible sound out of her saxophone by all matter of techniques.
While Rasmussen’s performance is certainly appreciated by many in attendance, the then-sparse crowd seemed uncomfortable at times, seemingly confused by the avant-garde nature of what they had just witnessed. Despite this, enthusiastic cheers still bookended her compositions, indicating that many thoroughly appreciated her work.
Following a brief intermission, an uneasy rumble begins to fill the hall which only amplifies as the venue’s lights dim. Gradually, the stage fills with members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, each adding in layers of sound from their respective instruments as they slowly but surely work towards a droning crescendo of extrasensory proportions.
Accompanied by close-up images of varying textures on the screen behind them, the group continue to build on their opening ‘Hope Drone’ until the one word which sums up a performance by this collective becomes clear on the screen; ‘hope’.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor continue their performance by showcasing the entirety of their newest album, Lucicferian Towers, mesmerising fans with extended versions of album tracks ‘Bosses Hang’, ‘Fam/Famine’, ’Anthem For No State’, and ‘Undoing A Luciferian Towers’.
For the latter track’s performance, the group welcome Mette Rasmussen back onto the stage for a rare collaboration while they are accompanied by images of jets falling out of skies. At this point, the often tear-inducing nature of Godspeed’s work is replaced by a frenzied performance which gives rise to an almost palpable atmosphere that feels akin to that of a waking nightmare. Despite, or maybe because of this, audience members are enthralled, unable to turn away from what they are witnessing for a single second.
To close the evening’s proceedings, Godspeed decide to treat the audience to some old fan favourites, including ‘Moya’ from 1999’s Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada, and ‘East Hastings’ from 1997’s breakthrough album F♯ A♯ ∞.
As images of Donald Trump rallies, protesters, and military strikes fill the rear screen, the group’s manifesto which accompanied their most recent album becomes ever more apparent. It soon becomes obvious that Godspeed You! Black Emperor are not just here to entertain, rather they are here to offer a warning for the future, while providing the soundtrack to this approaching apocalypse they caution of.
As ‘East Hastings’ slowly merges into a mess of looped feedback from the group’s instruments, the audience is clearly hungry for more. However, proving that they know when enough is enough, Godspeed’s members individually leave the stage in relative silence, choosing only to blow the audience kisses as it becomes evident that even after almost 25 years together, they are still as ferocious and relevant as ever.