Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Live At The Forum, London

The second coming
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Live At The Forum, London

Comebacks are a risky business. It’s rare they work out as hoped. Very few succeed in matching the level they once did and all too many end up sullying the legacy they had worked so hard to create. Just ask Michael Schumacher.

Still, comebacks seem to have been in vogue in recent years. Blur, Pulp and The Stone Roses immediately jump to mind. But selling out the reunion gig is only half the story. Riding the crest of a jubilant wave at hearing old classics is the easy part. It’s when it comes to penning the new material and coping with the weight of expectation that most are found out.

So given their career long commitment to staying underground and avoiding rock clichés it came as a surprise that Montreal’s post-rock heavyweights Godspeed You! Black Emperor decided to do just that in 2010 after nearly eight years apart. A resoundingly successful ATP curation followed and you could be forgiven for thinking that would be that.  But no, never ones to follow the conventional path GY!BE finished the reunion tour, got back into the studio, produced a work as good as anything they have done before and are back on the road once more. Tonight is the second of two headlining performances at The Forum, a venue whose size and decorative style could not be more fitting for the orchestral experience of these Canadian misfits.

Opening with ‘Mladic’ the lead track from their still hot-off-the-presses long player ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’ there is a heightened sense of anticipation from the assembled congregation (yes, with Godspeed it is a congregation). In trademark style the members (there are eight in attendance tonight) shuffle and move about as the opening drone of bowed and sustained notes slowly build.  Eventually they settle, guitarist David Bryant facing back as quasi-conductor, and in perfect unison the sound explodes into a series of exquisitely heavy riffs that assault every sense. ‘Mladic’ is undoubtedly as good as anything GY!BE has ever released and tonight it is played with an energy and togetherness that can only be the result of a band who are full of fire and passion for what they are doing.

Next up is the ever-popular ‘Moya’ from their 1999 long player ‘Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada’. Its melancholic string swells gliding effortlessly into subtle picked guitars to a visual background of flickering sepia coloured dandelion fields and calm seas.  The dynamics are sublime and without any noticeable transition it is not long before another intense acceleration is consuming all before it, the projected train track visuals acting as perfect metaphor for the thundering locomotion at hand.

We are treated to five songs overall but these last just under two hours altogether. It is astounding how such a length of time can pass so fluently and with such sustained captivation, the ebb and flow of the compositions hypnotizing all present into the rhythms and reverberations of the music.

The set closes with ‘Blaise Bailey Finnegan III’, a choice that is met with much approval from every corner of the room. Its gradual intro overlaid with an earmark political sample, ascends towards a frenetic crescendo of distorted guitars and screaming strings. There is of course no encore. What else would you expect?

And as a throng of fans clamour for the merchandise (it’s not like you can buy it on the internet), it is clear that what we have seen here tonight is no swan song.  No, it is the second coming of a band that simply refuses to be pigeon holed and who have returned from their hiatus to discover the form of their careers. In their own inimitable way Godspeed are taking post-rock by the scruff of the neck and exposing it to a new and informed audience on their own, highly integral, terms. And a privilege it is to witness too.

 

Words by Chris Wash

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