Friday, 3 November 2017

GIG REVIEW: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Motion, Bristol 30/10/17

“I’ve gotta go.  This music is utterly fucking repellent.” 
Strong words from my man G.

I don’t necessarily agree, but I admire the passion, and the intensity of the rant that follows after we go out to the bar.  I didn’t really like their sound, but I am not so upset by it as is G.  That’s my man, right there.  If music does not move us, what is the point of it? 
Fortunately, none of us have come to see this band, they are supporting the band we’re here to see.  The band we are here to see are called Godspeed You! Black Emperor.  (It looks like a pretentious name, what with the exclamation mark in the middle.  In the context of this particular band, I would argue it is not.  It is apt.  Also, they are named after a documentary about a Japanese motorcycle gang called The Black Emperors.  So there.  Hardly pretentious at all, is it? I’m not getting involved with any pretention, I can assure you of that right at the top…)

This particular band play a particularly epic version of Post Rock, which is a bit like Classical music played with electric/rock band instruments.  And, in this particular case, violin. 

There is no vocal microphone on stage.  There will be no singing, no introductions, no showbiz whatsoever. This is ART.  And Punk, sort of.  Anti-showbiz, if you will.  You will. 
This “show”, if you will (you won’t), is at Motion in Bristol, which looks like a big warehouse, but actually used to be Skate & Ride, in a previous century, when I was young.

These are all details, they don’t really matter.  The bald facts of an event don’t tell us very much about what it felt like, do they?  I will now attempt to record what it felt like.

CJ was planning on going on his own, and says this would have been fine.  (Should we apologise for coming with him?)  D*, by the look of him, would gladly have gone on his own, such is his excitement to see this.  It’s good to see him, it’s been a while.  MC is around somewhere, but I haven’t seen him yet.  Others I know are in attendance, and I recognise a lot of faces.  G and CJ both notice that the crowd is male-dominated, but I think no more than a lot of other gigs I’ve been to – is it certain types of music?  I don’t know, maybe we’d have to ask the people who don’t come why they don’t come.  And/or the people who do, why they do.

As the first strains of dramatic noise fill the hangar-like room and the excitement builds, G is effusive about the “dominant 7 drone”.  I smile and nod as if I know what he is talking about.  I do that a lot when G is talking music, and especially when he does so in numbers. 

Naturally, I can’t see very much of the stage.  Equally predictable is the man a foot taller than me who seeks me, instinctively, with that innate ability shared by all people a foot taller than me, and  stands directly in front of me, close enough for me take my weary rage out on the back of his head (hahahahahahahaha if I could reach amirite hahahaha I’m short, which is obviously hilarious).
What is probably more rage-inducing is the £2.50 cloakroom charge and the £4 for a can – a CAN – of Red Stripe. 
Yikes.  Welcome to Michael Gove’s Britain.
If only there was an appropriate, perhaps creative – artistic, even – expression of rage at the state of the world that was also somehow beautiful, some non-verbal exposition for our collective sorrow and disbelief at how far short of our potential we fall, how angry we are at each other, and ourselves, for failing so disastrously to organise ourselves for the benefit of all – while simultaneously expounding, in an abstract way, on the beauty and fragility of our world and the wonder of our existence in it………..
……..oh, wait.

G is crouching down.  He’s on the phone, which is mental.  Before I can admonish him for this transgression, he tells me that his girlfriend has gone to A&E.  But she will be fine.  Life, it seems, goes on, outside the rarefied atmosphere here created for us.

After a while, they their play their big pop hit, you know, the one that goes,
DUN, NU-NUH, DUN, NU-NUH, DUN, NU-NUH, DUN, NU-NUH     [sqwreeeeeeeeeeeh!]
DUN, NU-NUH, DUN, NU-NUH, DUN, NU-NUH, DUN, NU-NUH     [chchcwwwwwwrrrrrrrrchrrrrrrchr!]
(In which the DUN, NU-NUH, DUN, NU-NUH, DUN, NU-NUH, DUN, NU-NUH is the melody that emerges so gradually you can barely notice it starting, and then it only actually repeats once or twice, even though I always remember it going on for ages.  That’s musical memory, isn’t it – creating some kind of phantom melody, as brains fill in the gaps left by the music?  It’s what people mean when they say “you have to listen to the notes they’re not playing”, isn’t it?)

That one is in ¾, as I gesture to G, using my fingers to represent the numbers, and he agrees.  Perhaps I am starting to get the hang of the music numbers.  Perhaps it was a lucky guess.
The numbers I mentioned are the time signature.  In this set, that seems to change on a whim, and on the sly.  This music has a life of its own, it seems.  It leads and the rest of us are impelled to follow, invited to let go and flow with the current.  Like all good bands, like all good music, this is greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s very loud.  Physically.  As in, the kind of bass that shakes everything, including the internal organs of all those present.  Also, there’s a lot of bass chords, which are pleasing (especially for CJ, a bassist).  On this occasion, it seems to shake my shins, which is novel.  I don’t remember feeling music, specifically, in/on my shins before; perhaps it’s a sensitivity which develops with age, I don’t know.  But the hair on my shins is vibrating at a very high frequency.  Perhaps my shin-hair has achieved the vibratory pitch that Buddhists might call Nirvana.  I am neither a physician, a theologian, nor a meta-physicist, so am qualified to do little more than speculate on any of this. 
But I am a writer, so speculate I do.

There’s a big platform at the back of the room, with two sets of steps up to it, and another higher level at the very back.  There are lots of people on it. 
I head to the toilet (it’s a two-hour set) and on the way back, pause on the stairs.  The top one is empty, with just enough room, so I pause and watch from there.  I can see everything, and hear it even louder, even though downstairs we were very ear a big speaker.  I can see now that there are eight people on stage, although they are not lit like they want to be seen. 

Those on the stairs had previously been moved on by security personnel; presumably because this is a fire escape.  Now there is a whole row of stair-dwellers, with enough room for another row to carefully file past in ascension or declension.  Even the bouncers know not to mess with the emotional experience of those here gathered.  Good for them.  And all.  We’re like a temporary gang, aren’t we – a really good audience is, anyway.  The abundance of familiar faces makes it easier for me to believe this.

The piece I watch from my seat at the top of the stairs is especially stirring/punishing.  It is pretty brutal, but resolves, of course, as all rivers eventually find the sea.  Many people are strewn across the platform, at the back of it, a whole untidy row of them, like an atoll island nation, each with their eyes closed, experiencing the tide on their own.  And yet together.  (Told you it wouldn’t be pretentious.  (I didn’t say it wouldn’t be pompous.))

I meet MC by the stairs.  We step outside for a quick catch-up, and when we head back in, he gets free earplugs from the bar.  I decline; the damage is done, I expect.  I’d either be thinking about the damage done, or the weirdness of hearing it all differently, with extraneous noise/atmosphere blocked….I am not an ear/hearing specialist.  I may be an idiot.

At one point, the eagle-eyed CJ notices that the drummer and percussionist have swapped.  A sudden junction is formed in the area where we stand, as a lot of people leave shortly before the end, which is surprising – especially when the people on stage go.  I add Sudden Junction to my obsessively-compiled, massive, all-consuming list of band names.  (I will later add Phantom Melody, while writing this.  So, not later, now.  But now when you’re reading it, obviously.  Now.  Not now.)  The music continues droning for at least ten minutes after the players have left the stage.  It might still be going now, for all I know.  I can still hear it, now, distantly.  It exists outside time, somehow.

Outside, after it’s all over, MC mentions the visuals and says it would have been a bit too easy to have a lot of anti-current-president-of-the-USA-who-should-never-be-named-because-the-only-thing-that-will-really-upset-him-is-no-one-talking-about-him type of protest material, but concludes that the violent scenes shown at the climax of the show were very well judged and fitting.  I am not really in a position to make a sound judgment on this.  Because of my height.  [Insert self-deprecating height joke here.  See if you can find a new one, go on.]

I also see MSB, who it’s nice to see.  The first time we met, he bought me a drink because I was the "best" thing he’d seen at a gig where he’d gone to see someone else (this was our life/lives).

But how was it, though – was it good?  TELL US IF IT WAS ANY GOOD, they scream, the review readers, the editors, those who insist on Knowing Things.  This review is more conventional than most I have written.  It mentions the name of the band, and the venue.  What more do they want?  Blood?

A lot of you would call it Epic, which is fair enough.  It’s epic without being anthemic; it’s not pop music, it doesn’t lay everything out in the first ten seconds.  You have to work through something to get to the crescendo.  We can appreciate the joy, the beauty, because we have felt the pain and seen the brutality.  And, when it is live and we are all here at the same time, we are somehow part of it.  We have gone through all this together.  Maybe that’s what we need at times like these.  Whatever these times are like.

It was subtle and complex.  Gentle and cacophonous.  Beautifully brutal; brutally beautiful.

Ow, my ears.  Ow, my heart.

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