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Concert Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Concert Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor

A Godspeed You! Black Emperor concert plays best for those willing to get completely lost.

(Photo: Kathy Moseley)

Wonder Ballroom
Portland, OR 06/01/2018

A site like Setlist.FM is a double-edged sword. Knowing which songs a band will play before even buying a ticket is such a modern convenience, surreal to even think back before the internet exploded into our lives. Knowing a setlist can help you decide whether or not you want to pony up your hard-earned cash, especially if the set is a) a greatest hits blow-out or b) a legacy artist defiantly playing his new material. I will admit that I peeked at what Godspeed You! Black Emperor had been playing on this most recent leg of its Luciferian Towers tour, hoping to find out if “The Sad Mafioso” (or “East Hastings” or whatever it’s called) would make an appearance. To my dismay, the song hasn’t been in their setlists much these days. I could either be bummed out about it or at least not hoping all evening for the song to arrive. Or maybe I just shouldn’t have been looking on Setlist.FM in the first place.

The eight-piece band took the stage just after 9pm for its second night in Portland, the sold-out crowd applauding and cheering. The musicians sat in a semi-circle, the guitars on one side, the bass players and violin on the other. Two drum kits took up both corners in the back of the stage. The show began with “Hope Drone,” a slow-building piece that sounds as if each musician is sound-checking on the spot. Behind the musicians, flickering filmstrips showed scenes of scary buildings, Trump supporters beating up the opposition, a deer in the night. But as the show began, a solo word – “Hope” – flashed behind the band. In times such as these, we need a group of anti-capitalists from Canada who play experimental rock.

New material dominated the seven-song set, as Godspeed moved from “Mladic” to “Bosses Hang,” from “Fam/Famine” to “Undoing a Luciferian Tower.” The band basically went defunct for 10 years and it’s easy to tell the difference between the new material and the old. The more recent Godspeed songs are all crescendos, one after another. With the old stuff, like on the stunning “Monheim,” you keep waiting for the crescendo to come. “Bosses Hang” may follow a similar format of loud-soft-loud, but it doesn’t reward in the same way.

After the beautiful mayhem of “Monheim” came to a close, I thought I heard those first distinctive notes of “The Sad Mafioso.” They hadn’t played it the night before and then suddenly, it was happening. Nearly 20 minutes of pure bliss as Godspeed You! Black Emperor performed my favorite track. In this case, the best thing about using Setlist.FM occurred: I was elated when the band played a song I didn’t think they would play.

A Godspeed You! Black Emperor concert plays best for those willing to get completely lost. It is music for a dark theater, and I’ve continually wondered why the band plays standing-room only venues. But there is a catharsis to standing, and by the end of the nearly two-hour set, a sense of hope did emerge, even only in the undusting of a favorite song.

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