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Godspeed You! (Finally) Play Perth

Tuesday 12th February / presented by Adam Trainer

It took almost twenty years with a seven year break-up in-between, but Godspeed You! Black Emperor – surely the quintessential post-rock outfit if ever one could offer a fitting exemplar – finally made it to Australia. And thank the heavens that the good folks at the Perth Festival snaffled them up from the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival and brought them our way.

So, was the wait worth it? Well as an oppressive humidity sat on top of the Festival Gardens, tempered almost not at all by an all too brief shower, and an equally oppressive sub-bass rumble set the tone, the anticipation was utterly palpable. Post-rock nerds quivered in delight as one-by-one the band took their places on stage, and as their bi-panel projections flickered to life, with the word ‘Hope’ legible from a blur of words and bubbling film stock. ‘Hope’ is possibly the most accurate descriptor for the sense of anticipation that many in the audience were feeling.

As the sub-bass continued to rumble, slowly and assuredly violin and guitar drones emerged, like a machine willing itself to life. The band’s first piece lasted a little under twenty minutes and took listeners through warm ominous drones, ornate string arrangements, thunderous rhythms and delicate glockenspiel chimes. It set the mood for the rest of the set – over the course of just under two hours Godspeed You! Black Emperor worked through five pieces, including what seemed like a lengthy (and noisy) improvisation. Visuals of haunted ghost towns, rickety train lines and (ironically given the corporate sponsor of the venue) billowing oil refineries provided a fittingly apocalyptic visual backdrop for these large-scape cinematic compositions. And whilst undeniably glorious in a purely musical (and visual) sense, perhaps for the die-hards there was something missing.

In their heyday Godspeed contained up to thirteen members on stage, including horns and harpsichord (amongst other instrumentation), but in their current form the band has been stripped back to an eight-piece, which meant there was slim to no chance of any early material. Whilst Godspeed are not necessarily the kind of band who you would expect to “play the hits”, perhaps given they’d never toured Australia before the “hits” was perhaps what portions of the audience were hoping for. Without horns they offered nothing from either of their groundbreaking and iconic first two albums – they did play a track from the early EP ‘Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada’ , but the rest was either new (from last year’s 'Alelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!') or unreleased. Perhaps that’s nitpicking (or trainspotting) and an unavoidable consequence of the current line-up, but given the almost two decade wait for the band in this country, it was perhaps slightly disappointing.

There’s no denying that the band are masters of slow-build ensemble dynamics, and it was impossible not to be swept up in the majesty of their compositional style, built upon a deft combination of patience and subtle instrumental layering. And whilst Godspeed delivered just the kind of epic musical experience we knew they were capable of, one couldn’t help but form the impression that perhaps we weren’t getting them at their best, or their most relevant.

All live musical performances are included in our podcasts with the express permission of artists, who reserve all other rights in their music. All music used in our podcasts is licensed under an APRA Community Broadcasting license agreement.

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