ARTICLE BY BRYAN MACK
FEB. 23 | HOLLYWOOD—Hope is a knotty concept. A friend recently told me that her university rejected her initial commencement speech because they felt that hope was too bleak a concept for a graduation message. After Obama’s election, hope is seen in a more positive light, but ultimately it is the refuge of the beaten, the downtrodden and the cast aside. Godspeed You! Black Emperor chose to begin their set at the Music Box with the word flickering behind them, providing an adept theme for the night. Known as much for their devout adherence to liberal politics and anti-capitalist stances as their breathtakingly expansive music, the band expressed positivism and bleak foreboding in equal regard over the course of their two-plus-hour set.
Godspeed’s music is labeled as many things: post-rock, orchestral, cinematic, expansive. However, as I watched them, I was continually reminded of the visceral and organic quality of their songs. Unlike Mogwai, who also crush and lull their audience with walls of noise, or Sigur Ros, who build to emphatic climaxes of vocals and visuals, Godspeed used the set as a whole to craft their statement. They opened with a slow-building drone that bled into "Storm," a song that exults in the expansion of sound and one of the highlights of their catalog. Most passages throughout the night followed the basic structure of "Storm"—a more subdued introduction building to a climactic crescendo.
However, the band used this dynamic in interesting ways, emphasizing their instrumental interplay over sheer noise, and moving from uplifting, positive tones to darker, tenser movements as the set progressed. The early explosions of "Monheim" sounded like bursts of joy, but by "Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls," the sound was decidedly darker, more ominous and much more forceful. They mirrored this progression with visuals that were projected from two film reels. Starting with slow, drifting shots of nature and empty land, the visuals slowly introduced more images of humanity and technology as the songs veered toward a darker sphere. By the closing piece, "Sad Mafioso" (used to excellent effect in 28 Days Later), the band crafted a maelstrom of strings, guitars and distortion, as shots of stock tickers and urban masses tangled behind them. These scenes worked as more literal expressions of the band’s instrumental music, emphasizing a respect for nature and a distrust of large, capitalist-driven society. The imagery was never overbearing and instead provided a great focus, as the band hardly moved and kept the stage lights dim.
The crowd readily responded to the majestic noise the band made onstage. In my experience, the Music Box draws a fairly noisy crowd, and I was more than a little worried that conversations might mar the performance. Instead, the sold-out crowd was rapt from the first notes, cheering like crazy between pieces but maintaining an awed silence during the rest of the performance. During the quietest moments, the only sound I could hear besides the performance was that of the film projectors at the back of the venue. Whether Godspeed will stay together after this tour remains to be seen. However, for one night, they turned a crowd of Angelenos into fervent believers and instilled hope that this won’t be the last we see of them.