“I’ve been waiting my whole life for this!”
came a guttural cry from the audience as Godspeed You! Black Emperor took the stage for their final of four shows sat Lee’s Palace in Toronto on a cool Easter sunday evening. It may have seemed an odd way to spend a religious holiday concerned with the resurrection of the son of god; listening to arguable one of the most apocalyptic sounding bands around; but for every person in that crowd it was also the celebration of the rebirth of one of the greatest instrumental music collectives of modern music who have been on what appeared to be a permanent hiatus since 2003.
If you’ve followed my website recently you may know I already had the privilege of seeing this band live about a month ago at Terminal 5 in NYC. The whole reason for that trip was because I had been unable to get a ticket for the sold out Toronto shows so I decided to road trip it rather than pay a scalper for a ticket. Lucky for me an otherwise lonely easter on the other side of the world to family was saved by a friend of a friend’s spare last minute ticket from to their final show on sunday evening.
This show was much like the NYC show, only in a much smaller venue; in true Godspeed fashion the show was long, it was epic, and left the audience both physically and emotionally exhausted in all the right ways. Large parts of the set were the same; they opened with the menacing dirge Hope Drone, and filled out the middle with the best movements from Sleep, Static, and Storm from Lift Your Skinny Fists like Antennas to Heaven. As you would expect of a band with almost no bad output, at the start of every new song the crowd cheered at hearing the opening notes of an old favourite. I was especially pleased they played more movements from F#A#-Infinity which were absent from the Terminal 5 show. The Cowboy from The Dead Flag Blues made an appearance, and they closed off their set with what could very well be the soundtrack to the end of the world – The Sad Mafioso from East Hastings. In fact it has already been used in this capacity in film; if you are unfamiliar with this band you may recognise parts of the latter track from the movie 28 Days Later. The only noticeable absence in both live shows were many songs from Yanqui U.X.O. This however was fine by me as I find that to be the least memorable, and my least favourite, of their records.
Knowing we were in for a long show, near three hours in length in fact, me and my friends claimed a spot on at the side of the venue where we could sit down. This was a terrible spot to take photos from since half the stage was hidden by a pole, but this is the sort of band you could happily see live with your eyes closed, so it was worth it just to enjoy the sound without physical exhaustion overwhelming me (I hadn’t had a good nights sleep for the whole easter long weekend). The guy next to me looked like he might as well have been watching the resurrection of christ instead of a band, he was in rapture the whole time tearing at his face and convulsing joyously through every buildup and climax. Sadly the whole crowd didn’t share his enthusiasm. In the quiet parts of the songs you could hear a lot of people talking over the band.
All in all, it was a great show, and I’m really glad I had the chance to see this band live twice, once in a large venue and once in a small venue. If I had to choose I would say the Terminal 5 show was slightly better, mostly due to the venue and my position in it. I was on the balcony dead center right behind the projectors for their film loops and in the quiet parts of the songs instead of hearing annoying chatter I only heard the ticker-tacker of spinning film reels. The bigger stage also gave more room for their film projections. Both setlists were great. The only other major difference was in the opening acts. I’m not sure who the opener in Toronto was, and to be honest I’m not too interested in finding out. He was a drone musician and played 30 minutes of machine-like ambience and noise that sounded like it could have come from the engine room of a failing space station. Some people love this stuff, but I’m not one of them. In my opinion avante-garde saxophonist Colin Stetson who opened at the NYC show was much more unique and interesting.
1. Hope Drone
2. JLH Outro (Providence)
3. Moya (Moya)
5. Monheim (Sleep)
6. Chart #3 (Static)
7. World Police and Friendly Fire (Static)
8. The Cowboy (The Dead Flag Blues)
9. Gathering Storm (Storm)
10. The Sad Mafioso (East Hastings)