Evangelista / Godspeed You! Black Emperor @ Music Box; Los Angeles, CA

February 24, 2011

It’s been seven years since I (or anyone else for that matter) has had an opportunity to witness the live spectacle that is a Godspeed You! Black Emperor concert. I was lucky enough back then to catch three dates on the collective’s American tour, two shows in Brooklyn and one in Philadelphia. As I stood in line last night outside the Music Box in Hollywood, a tall, shaggy blond-haired fan lobbed questions my way when I admitted I’d seen the band before.

“Is it true they were banned from New York for inciting a riot at one of their shows?” “Will I really be able to feel the floor trembling beneath my feet? Is this going to be the best concert experience of my life?” I started to feel like an old man spinning yarns for young kids, their heads turned as I did my best to demystify one of the most enigmatic bands of our time. It was kind of embarrassing, actually. At least it helped kill a few minutes before entering the club. Even though I arrived five minutes before the doors opened, the line at the Music Box was stretched from the entrance on Hollywood Boulevard around the corner onto Gower and down almost a full block to Selma. This had the air of not just a show but an event.

I met up with Erin right at the door. We grabbed a drink and found a decent spot near the soundboard where we chatted and waited for the opening act to take the stage. At 9:30 the curtains parted and a six or seven piece band began to play. Despite not knowing I was hearing Godspeed’s labelmates Evangelista (aka Carla Bozulich), I couldn’t get over how dull they were. Erin and I cracked wise about some of the more cringeworthy aspects of the band’s sound/style, and once I found out who it was I realized that I owned Evangelista, and no wonder I haven’t listened to that album in four or five years. Oh well, I guess it wasn’t for me then and it still is not now. I want to like Carla’s music, but I can’t.

There was an insane amount of energy in the crowd before Godspeed took the stage. Erin and I quickly moved to the front left of the stage, maybe ten or twelve feet from the security barrier. A couple I know snuck up behind me and we chatted as others rushed to get prime positions. As they hurriedly set the stage with amplifiers, pedal boards and instruments, as Sophie tuned her violin and Thierry his upright bass there were scattered hollers among a sea of silence. Without a doubt, this was the quietest club show I’ve seen since the Slint reunion tour in 2005. During the softer parts of the band’s set one could easily hear the distant sounds of film projectors up in the balcony. Between songs and movements there was great applause, but other than that no one really spoke a word. There was just a mass of bobbing heads, and all eyes were trained forward on the stage. The austerity of the evening was definitely not lost on me. Like I said before, this was no ordinary concert.

They opened with Gathering Storm, same as the 2003 tour, but now with the addition of Mike Moya on third guitar. Despite repeated amplifier problems throughout the night, Moya’s guitar added immeasurable effect to these songs I’ve been listening to for a decade. Whether he was bowing the strings of his guitar by running a screwdriver over the fretboard or coloring crescendos with varying amounts of fuzz and distortion, the textural nuances he supplied made seeing the band on this tour all the more enjoyable. From there the infamous Murray Ostril “they don’t sleep anymore on the beach” field recording played over the loudspeaker, and the band moved into Monheim, the main chunk of “Sleep,” the third track on Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven!. Next was the reworked, retooled Albanian, a song which I believe the band first premiered on the 2003 tour. The opening movement has been amped up and made much noisier, but the repeated crescendos in the latter half of the song have lost their intensity now that the lead-in is so heavy and noisy. After a brief violin interlude juxtaposed to the monologue from Hung Over As The Queen In Maida Vale [MP3] came World Police And Friendly Fire (the biggest chunk of “Static,” track two on Lift Yr. Skinny Fists…). That has always been one of my favorite movements, so it was a pleasure to hear again. Dead Metheny followed, as did Rockets Fall On Rocket Falls (which I’d not heard live before). As much as I wanted the band to cap their set with Moya, we were treated to Sad Mafioso. That was definitely the highlight of the set for me. Glacial drones set against Dave’s excruciatingly slow guitar leads, the introduction of Efrim’s dissonant guitar riff playing off Dave’s, the brilliant bursts of frenetic energy from the trio of Sophie, Thierry and Moya bowing their instruments, and the band hurtling towards a cacophonous conclusion, it all makes for such a fantastic closing number.

Setlist:
Gathering Storm
Monheim
Albanian
World Police
Dead Metheny
Rockets Fall On Rocket Falls
The Sad Mafioso

2 comments

  1. Stephen
    |

    There sure is a lot of old-time Morricone in that MP3 — so much so that I thought “Maida Vale” must be the original Italian name of some obscure spaghetti western he scored.

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