Coronet Theatre, London | August 18, 2016
In a fashion befitting post-rock’s leading name, Godspeed You! Black Emperor make to the Coronet Theatre stage in their own good time. The 2,500-strong crowd have filled the venue to capacity, and on one of the hottest nights of the year even the lofty art deco ceiling offers little respite. With Godspeed some 20 minutes late, the crowd’s attention is drawn to the sound desk, where a sweltering camera crew meticulously loads film reels onto four blazing projectors. An ebbing drone begins. Underneath the illuminated screen, the Quebecois eight-piece slip through the shadows to slink on-stage one-by-one. A cello groans; a double bass growls; a fishbowl rolls across the projectionist’s glaring beam. Over the next ten minutes a great oaken drone builds. Distorted and all-consuming, it engulfs three solipsistic guitars before the drums signal the start of a crashing apocalyptic clamour. Sweaty brows make way for goosebumps. Lift your skinny fists like antennas to heaven: Godspeed have arrived.
The band squeeze just eight expansive tracks into their two hour set, including their 2015 album Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress in its entirety. First up is ‘Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!”, whose monolithic eastern swing sounds like Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir blasted through tar. Its weighty riff sparks mesmeric movement through the heavy air; onlookers sway transfixed as Super-8 roadtrip visuals cruise ever onwards. Powerfully minimalist, the footage, like the music is all about the journey.
Godspeed’s visual-audio interplay is no finer than in ‘Dead Metheny’, from their 1997 debut F# A# ∞. As its off-beat guitar loop begins, the hand-operated film reel flickers into life. Bruised strings throb as monochrome box cars pump through frozen industrial towns. A glockenspiel rings, freight trains accelerate, drums clatter as Morricone trumpets sound, harking the arrival of grainy scrub prairie, solitary onlookers and black outhouses. It’s bleak, charged, expansive and inconclusive, the unforgiving crescendo rumbling ever louder as their freight wagons pass on.
For a band whose catalogue is largely instrumental Godspeed have never been afraid to voice their political views through their music. Until footage of the Eric Garner protests shows during set closer ‘BBF3′, the band’s set tonight largely shies away from such societal criticisms. Instead, Godspeed proffer an audio-visual trip of psychoacoustic exploration, melding blistering cacophony with derelict abandonment to unsettling yet hypnotic effect. It’s a masterful performance: captivating, intoxicating, and frankly unmissable.