Godspeed You! Black Emperor (GYBE) had the Gothic Theater in a trance this February 25 in Denver. Bringing the ~1,000-person room to increasing levels of dissonance before cathartic release throughout the night, the band put on a display of musical maximalism in a time of minimalism.
There are as many reasons to go to a show as there are people packed in a venue; to see the spectacle of live music, to experience superior sound quality, to be stimulated more than sonically, or because you’re sick of doing drugs at home.
If you go to concerts to watch lazer light shows and hear fun anecdotes about the inspiration for a song, the GBYE show probably wasn’t for you. However, if you want to be sucked up in a sound vacuum and transported to another dimension then this was the show for you.
The show was a metaphor come to life. In real time 1,000 people watched the performing members of GYBE stack straw on a camel’s back. At times the composition felt one note from snapping your knees backwards and leaving you stranded, but it never did.
No matter how cacophonous the set was at times, it was always just right. GYBE took the stage in silence and went about their show for about two hours. They played around five songs without saying a single word.
No introduction, no mediation, no verbal aids to their ethos. There were no microphones in sight; the only connection between band and audience came through the music– and what a relationship it was. In an industry dominated by capitalistic short-termism, it was refreshing. GYBE’s performance was grounded in art and praxis, rather than the personalities of the artists.
There was no cloying, no dress-up; just musicians, music, and audience sharing equally in an all-encompassing soundscape. Their set held a spell of sound over the crowd, entrancing the audience into collective immobility.
There was, of course, cheering and applause in the short intervals between songs, but very little was said. As GBYE rolled into their first song someone shouted “Let’s Go!!” and someone behind them screamed “shut the fuck up!”
That chastising voice spoke for and to the hundreds of other people in the venue. The sonic balance in the room was so delicate, and the music being played so transfixing, that any interjection felt inappropriate.
Not only did people not speak, but people hardly moved, I’m not even convinced I breathed. It was the most peaceful post-rock show of all time. Even the body language of the GYBE members was transfixing. No rushing, no pushing, no stress. They operated as cells within a unified organism.
An apocalyptic b-roll of brutalist architecture and burning forests played behind the band, a silent film that furthered the cold worldview implied by their music.
Barthes said the author is dead. This concert makes that seem true, and it may be a good thing. Their bodies were the only thing to anthropomorphize their set, pushing the audience to swim deeper into their music.
Robert Rauschenburg’s white paintings were famously referred to by John Cage as airports for lights, shadows, and particles. The music of GYBE, especially live, is an airport for the soul.