Monday, October 15, 2012

Godspeed You! Black Emperor's mere presence graces Cannery

When dealing with a band that names itself after a Japanese documentary on motorcycle gangs, it's only ordinary to expect a little bit of weirdness. So when Godspeed You! Black Emperor kicked off their Nashville concert with 15 minutes of drone before even taking the stage, it should surprise no one.

I've heard their name excitedly chittered about for as long as I can remember, but until recently had never even taken the time to investigate what type of music they played, let alone listen to them. They were post-rock before post-rock was cool, and have taken many bends and detours to arrive at their current destination. They reformed in 2010 after taking a nearly 10 year hiatus, and their acclaimed album Allejuah! Don't Bend! Ascend! drops tomorrow.

Godspeed co-founder Efrim Menuck anchors a crushing guitar attack.

They are a very democratic band; onstage no one member stands out more than another nor seems more important. They quietly take the stage and begin fiddling with their instruments. Due to the slow droning buildup of most of their songs, it's tough to tell whether they've actually begun playing or if they're still doing soundchecks.

Guitarists Efrim Menuck and Mike Moya begin with some warbly buildup, sometimes accentuating it by trading out their pick for a screwdriver. Mauro Pezzente is kneeled over with his bass guitar hanging around his neck, looking like he's checking something. And David Bryant is leaning over a massive control panel filled with switches, effect pedals, and God knows what else. He's constantly bending over it, peering in and occasionally reaching in, looking like he just lost a bunch of change down there.

With eight members in total, they're capable of making  a ton of noise when they finally hit their stride. Their battery of three guitarists overpower you with dark atmospheric waves, a pair of drummers establish a heavy, thumping beat, and even the bass is audible with two players going at it.

They played long compositions. Most of their songs in their set topped the 20 minute mark typically consisting of a clear buildup  climax, and denouement. The long lengths, however, give them a lot of time to play around with various effects and elements. Every now and then the rest of the instruments would drop out to focus on one or two individual elements. Given some silence to work with, Sophie Trudeau's violin sounded majestic backed only by Theirry Amar's bass.

Sophie Trudeau's violin adds a majestic element to Godspeed's sound.

Their setlist consisted of just four songs lasting nearly an hour and a half, though because the band often splits their songs into separate movements it seemed like much more. It kicked off with "Albanian," which is supposedly an alternate title for "Mladic," the opener from Allejuah! Don't Bend! Ascend!. Also included was the non-album dynamo "Behemoth," a piece that has recently become famous at their live shows for its 44 minute length. But because it was split into several movements, it seemed more like three songs as opposed to one.

Closing the set was "Storm," the opener from their landmark 2000 album Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, which drew massive audience applause when the band began playing the opening notes. Rounding out the setlist was "Gorecki," a song pulled from their Slow Riot for Zero New Kanada EP. Clocking in at less than 10 minutes, it was the relative midget of the set. The band's performance was top notch throughout  Although the drone parts were somewhat sleep inducing, the hard buildup and culmination of each song was never anything less than riveting.

However, it would be a mistake to sleep on opener Kurt Wagner, best known as the driving force behind Nashville alt-country standouts Lambchop.

I was lucky enough to catch Lambchop's excellent set at the Nashville Veterans Post in May, but Wagner's Cannery performance proved he can be just as effective as a solo act. With his folksy demeanor and understated guitar chops, he delighted with tales of run-ins with the police along with a few other songs I didn't recognize.

But he also sprinkled in a liberal dose of tunes from the exemplary Lambchop album Mr. M, released in February  Of particular note was "Gone Tomorrow," which is predicated upon a long instrumental climax. I wondered how he would capture the full effect without the benefit of a backing band, but Wagner impressed with effective tape loops and tasteful guitar playing.

Lambchop leader Kurt Wagner shows his skills as a solo performer.

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