Live review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, O2 ABC, Glasgow, Sun 19 Apr
The small orchestra perform a suite of recent pieces but nothing from Godspeed's golden age
Before 9/11, before our Great Recession, and long before Barack Obama co-opted ‘hope’ as a campaign slogan, Godspeed You! Black Emperor were projecting that scrawled word onto a film screen at their live shows, while playing music that just as often sounded like the opposite. There it is again tonight, flickering over the protracted drone that scores their slow arrival on the darkened stage.
They come across, as they ever did, like a small nomadic orchestra touring blasted hamlets after the apocalypse, though the louder, drunker elements in the crowd don’t get into their own roles nearly as well as the hushed devotees who far outnumber them. This is surely the fullest the ABC has ever been, packed out with an all-white, overwhelmingly male, and generally bearded congregation still revelling, if that’s the word, in the band’s sudden return a few years ago, after almost a decade of silence.
Some will surely be disappointed not to hear a single thing from Godspeed’s golden age, around the turn of the millennium. Building that opening drone into an overture, they give us instead a suite of more recent pieces. The oldest is ‘Mladic’, that vaguely Arabian dirge they used to play live but only recorded for the first time on their comeback album Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! in 2012.
Heavy, melancholy, and increasingly violent, with Sophie Trudeau’s violin winding through it like a red ribbon snagged in the treads of a tank, that tune alone might have provided the underlying score for all the years they spent away – an era of shock and collapse that their earlier music now seems to have prophesied. Flanking this on either side are a couple of unfamiliar tunes even newer than the new album, Asunder Sweet And Other Distress. The first is a symphonic panic set to images of anonymous office towers and scrolling stock market tickers, the second is a fiddle-led lament that could have wrung tears from prospectors around a campfire in 1849.
There has always been a bit of time displacement to the Godspeed experience. The music often seems to draw from bygone classical and folk traditions, and the wordless intensity of the performance sometimes disrupts your temporal sense. It’s incredibly satisfying to hear them play that latest record straight through, in a single continuous movement that the band have called Behemoth. And it’s a relief to find them pretty much as potent as they were, if a little more hermetically closed-off from their audience, tonight’s set a bit less of a collective testimony than their shows of the past.
But even after almost two hours and over 20 years, it also feels like Godspeed are just getting started when they stop dead and exit stage right. No fan favourites, no encore. Perhaps this is a bit ungenerous, or maybe it’s exactly what we want from them. To speak for the faithful, and to borrow the title of a record by Efrim Menuck’s Godspeed offshoot A Silver Mount Zion: this is our punk rock.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor played O2 ABC, Glasgow on Sun 19 Apr