Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor

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As the glass doors to the venue slide away in front of me, I got the impression I’d mistakenly walked into a reunion for ex-Famous Army Store employees. There was so much worn leather it made my woollen blazer seem wholly inadequate. The venue was Camp and Furnace, and Liverpool Music Week continued with the highly anticipated, Godspeed You! Black Emperor from Montreal.

Over the past 10 years LMW has become Europe’s largest indoor winter music festival, harnessing the strength of the city’s burgeoning music and events scene. There was a buzz about tonight’s headliners, who were formed in 1994 by Efrim Menuck, Mauro Pezzente and Mike Moya. There are currently nine members if you count Karl Lemieux, who is responsible for visuals. At least nine other members have come and gone over the past 20 years, adding to the progressive post-rock spectacle and live performances on which the band have built their reputation.

As the bar area gave way into the furnace room I hadn’t realised the support act, Black Rat Orchestra, bathed under a blue hue, had begun. There was nothing to mark the beginning of their performance, just two bearded men entering the stage. After a while one began slapping at an organ, the other monitoring a laptop surrounded by countless pedals.

They wailed in shouty harmonies, with clanging bells, stamping feet and the occasional triangle. They made a surprising amount of noise, with songs it seemed mostly sea-shanties, before finishing with a jaunty number about criminal justice in the 18th century. It almost never worked but it was enjoyable without being too engaging.

“Behind the stage flickered nightmarish visuals of false hope.”

As the lights dimmed for Godspeed to come on, the creaky sound of leather on leather groaned as I joined the huddle towards the stage. For a few minutes, there was an ominous, distorted drone pulsing in the darkness, which gradually built until it consumed the room. On a huge screen behind the stage flickered nightmarish visuals of false hope.

The double bass player and violinist entered first, with each new member adding to the churning wall of sound, jarring and endless. It was unsettling, but I was drawn closer. Two drummers, two bass players, guitars, and a synth joined for a tightly orchestrated performance that spiked and waned. The delayed guitars snarled momentarily – foreboding but precise.

Stood in front of the speakers just to the right of the stage, each thud of the kick drum pounded into my chest. The pause between songs provided brief respite from the increasing volume. The room was packed but it was a solitary experience. Eyes closed, it numbed thought.

By the end I felt like I’d been through some level of sensory deprivation and come out the other side unsure what to make of it all. As I slowly regained my senses on the way out, I began to reflect on what had been a powerful performance. However, there was little connection between the band and the crowd, which was maybe why it had thinned out before the end. I felt like I’d enjoyed myself, but I couldn’t hear myself think for the ringing in my ears.

Review: Stephen Delahunty. Photo: Michelle Roberts

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