review by Andrew Rothmund

Godspeed You Black Emperor
photo by Niels Vinck (via Paradiso Instagram)
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Godspeed You! Black Emperor are on tour now, and we just caught them at Amsterdam's Paradiso last night (11/2). Here's our review:

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Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the Canadian experimental music troupe, is known for the intensity and serenity of their sell-out shows. Constructing a distinct sound from a wide variety of instruments -- oftentimes all playing in unison -- the experience is ethereal, loud, and overwhelming, but not aggressive or confrontational. It's this approach which makes Godspeed You! Black Emperor so effortless live: wooing you instead of shocking you, comforting you instead of disturbing your inner peace. Making their way through Europe, they stopped in Amsterdam last night at the multi-level venue Paradiso for an evening of transportation and wonderment.

Arranged in half-circle formation, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's guitar, bass, double bass, and violin section resounded with layered wavelengths of static tones which phased in and out of melody, soaring over the polite and professional crowd. Providing structure to this wall of noise was a double drum performance: a tempo-kept arrangement of slamming floor toms and the occasional crash and snare hit, phasing left and right between the two kits situated toward the rear. Bonus features included high-pitched chimes, as well as a madhouse, freestyle saxophone performance whose rusty brazenness juxtaposed the collective's put-togetherness and high synergy. (That sax is featured prominently on their new album, streaming below.)

At times, they descended into cacophony, drawing eyes closed and sending arms in the air -- an obviously purposeful move with all instruments seemingly following their own tune, yet followable. With sound so crisp and clear, each instrument was entirely discernible; the experience aptly reset ears to better handle the next super-energy surge of complete alignment between all instruments. Vocals would surely sully the point: Godspeed You! Black Emperor is about non-organic sound taking organic form through layering, volume, and mood; indie rock, postmodern noise, and the sensibilities of freestyle jazz all combining to form something entirely bespoke. The music feels not only live on stage, but also alive: a system of systems working together to keep a lifeform moving through a world of dangers.

Over the nearly two-hour set, the crowd undulated in a gentle but direct reaction to the pulsing of Godspeed You! Black Emperor's sound which died to silence (met by cheers and applause) only a handful of times. The absence of the traditional demarcation of tracks, as well as typical structural elements like choruses and verses, helps fortify the collective's mental impact: this is music for tuning in and tuning out, resistant to ordinary analysis, defining its own type of understanding. Certainly, it's "feel" versus "content," but that's not to say that the band undervalues instrumental perfection; quite the opposite, actually. Care must be exercised to nurture what would otherwise be an atonal or one-sided wall of sound.

Extreme attention to detail is key, as evidenced by the summoning of textured noise through precision techniques and an esoteric array of effects pedals, with likely more than 35 on stage between all the members. From an electrical point of view, it's incredible that wall-outlet energy can be transformed through so many complicated contraptions and devilish devices to generate a sound so enrapturing yet so resistant to recreation. Godspeed You! Black Emperor isn't all about vibrations in the air though: a dual video feed of art-house imagery projected on an enormous screen above the stage complimented the musical ebbs and flows. On stage, the band is calm and collected (with several members seated), the idea being that you either close your eyes or stare deeply into the postmodern visuals for a full sensory experience.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor sees music trying to redefine itself, perhaps into something more current and fitting for our renewed psyches in an increasingly complicated and overstimulating world. There's therapy to losing yourself in sound, but only a carefully constructed sound will do -- it must have density, distinct layers, and complex texture. It can even be fun (there were a few moments fitting for headbanging, even), but it isn't a party: the collective despite their multifarious nature writes singular, individual music. Each will have their own interpretation, but the effect should be the same: to find yourself somewhere else for just a moment in time, dissolving the discomforts of day-to-day life and invoking a much-needed presence of self.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor have more upcoming shows, including US festivals Day For Night and Big Ears:

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Godspeed You! Black Emperor -- 2017/2018 Tour Dates
Nov 03 Festsaal Kreuzberg Berlin, Germany
Nov 03 Indiego Hanover, Germany
Nov 07 Elysee Montmartre Paris, France
Dec 13 Sala Corona Puebla, Mexico
Dec 16 Paper Tiger San Antonio, TX
Dec 17 Day For Night Houston, TX
March 22-25 Big Ears Festival Knoxville, TN
Apr 11 Vasateatern Stockholm, Sweden
Apr 12 Pustervik Göteborg, Sweden
Apr 13 ROCKEFELLER Oslo, Norway
Apr 14 Slagthuset Malmö, Sweden
Apr 21 Roadburn Tilburg, Netherlands
Apr 22 Roadburn Tilburg, Netherlands

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