Monday, April 25th, 2011
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
Godspeed You! Black Emperor and The Sadies at Lee’s Palace in Toronto
Frank YangRelative to most of the people seeing any part of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s three-day, four-show residency at Lee’s Palace this past weekend, for which I hit up the Saturday night performance, I didn’t want to be there at all. I did, of course, but that was nothing compared to the anticipation so many had for the Montreal post-rock forebears’ first shows here in eight years, part of their surprise return to active duty – touring, at least – announced last Spring.
I just missed out on Godspeed the first time around – either being aware of them but not getting around to listening or listening but not getting around to getting, I’m not sure – but have spent the better part of the past decade getting acquainted both with their works and their ideological and musical mythology. Much of the latter, at least locally, centered around their legendary shows at the Palais Royale in the Fall of 2001 and the Spring of 2003 so the opportunity to witness them for myself – even if not on the edge of Lake Ontario – wasn’t to be missed and would hopefully be at least a fraction as unforgettable as those performances were purported to be. Dispatches from Friday night’s show certainly implied they would be.
One thing that was certain was that I picked the right show with regards to opening acts, at least. I didn’t know who either of the other two support acts were but I was pretty certain that The Sadies were better. And that’s because The Sadies are pretty much the best, be it headlining, opening, ordering tacos, whatever. And while it could be argued that their psych-country was a bit of an odd fit for Godspeed’s widescreen sonic apocalypses, doing so would be to ignore the dark and dusty gothic undercurrent that inhabits much of their work and also the fact that The Sadies are simply awesome. Given 45 minutes and a tiny portion of the stage with which to work, they powered through a set that was basically a Sadies 101, showcasing their songwriting and musical virtuosity and on-stage tricks, like the Good brother guitar neck-swapping of “Tiger Tiger”, which Dallas still managed even though he spent the rest of the set on a stool, still hobbled by the leg broken back in February. And all except for the guy standing beside me who couldn’t have looked more unimpressed – he had his Godspeed goggles on – I’d like to think they went over well.
I’d been tipped in advance of a few things with regards to the Godspeed live experience: That it would run two and a half hours, that photographically speaking house left was the better side to camp out on, that there would be no interaction between the band and the audience, with the band set up in a semi-circle and more intent on communicating with each other than those there to see them. And oh yeah, it would be incredible. I’ll be honest – as much as I wanted it to be a great show, I also hoped to somehow dispel some of the hyperbole that had enveloped the band in their time away by seeing and hearing it with my own earballs. And instead, I fear I may only be contributing to it.
The show-opening “Hope Drone” ceremony, wherein each band member entered the stage one at a time and began contributing to the din, wasn’t nearly as formal as I’d expected. It actually emerged out of sound check, perhaps at the expense of some of the drama, and the audience didn’t stop chattering until about halfway through when they finally turned on the film projectors. With the band arranged around the perimeter of the stage and three guitarists seated and hunched over, it was these projections of birds, glyphs, maps and a scrawled word “hope” which provided most of the evening’s illumination and visual interest – at least if you kept your eyes open. Eyes closed, you would be faced with whatever terrifying and beautiful imagery their music made your mind create.
The show drew heavily from the band’s masterwork, 2000’s Life Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, adding unreleased live staple “Albania” and one composition from F#A#∞ before closing with both sides of their Slow Riot For A New Zerø Kanada EP, but the specifics of what were played were really less important than the epic whole they created. And here’s where the hyperbole comes in. There was something unbelievably primal and elemental about what Godspeed You! Black Emperor create; like a force of nature if nature were sentient and pissed off. They moved slowly and inexorably, with massive weight and delicate grace and meant to be simultaneously marvelled at, feared and celebrated. The sound was deafening while perfectly clear, brutally beautiful and hitting with the impact of unchecked emotion made sound. I don’t doubt that the marathon-length shows are intended to add a dimension of actual physical exhaustion to the experience – are your knees buckling because you’re tired or because the existential momentousness of it all is too much to bear? Probably the former, but you can’t be sure.
But for those who endured and persevered through the entire show, who watched each member depart as they entered as “BBF3” was deconstructed, there was a very real sense of catharsis and transcendence – words far overused in music writing but wholly appropriate here – from the experience. Maybe it was because witnessing the performance had subtly changed everyone. Maybe it was just relief that they could finally get away from the pile of throw-up that someone left near the front of the stage during the second song. But either way, it was one to remember.
The National Post has a review of Friday night’s show; most notes are applicable to Saturday’s.
Photos: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Sadies @ Lee’s Palace – April 23, 2011
MP3: Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven”
MP3: Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “The Buildings They Are Sleeping Now”
MP3: The Sadies – “Another Year Again”
MP3: The Sadies – “Anna Leigh”
Video: The Sadies – “Another Day Again”
Video: The Sadies – “Cut Corners”
Video: The Sadies – “Postcards”
Video: The Sadies – “The Horseshoe”
Video: The Sadies – “Flash”
Shearwater performed the whole of their last three albums – those dubbed The Island Arc – in a special hometown show in Austin earlier this year, and now a live album has been assembled, available to stream or digitally purchase at the band’s Bandcamp. The trilogy of Palo Santo, Rook and The Golden Archipelago is also notable as it represents the band’s entire tenure on Matador; they just announced that they’ve signed to Sub Pop for their next record, due out in 2012.
Stream: The Antlers / Burst Apart
Arriving in town a day before their sold-out show at The Mod Club, Battles will play an in-store at Sonic Boom on April 28 at 7PM, admission free with suggested donation of a canned food good. Their new record Gloss Drop is out June 7 and Drowned In Sound has an interview with the band.
Video: Battles – “Tonto”
Both Junior Boys and Miracle Fortress have new albums at the ready – the former with It’s All True due June 14 and the latter with tomorrow’s Was I The Wave? – so it makes perfect sense that they’d team up for a Summer tour that kicks off at The Phoenix on June 9. North America, dancing shoes at the ready.
Alela Diane released her second album Alela Diane and Wild Divine at the start of the month and has now released her touring itinerary for the Summer; look for her on June 11 at The Rivoli on Toronto.