The drive, the wait, the opening act who had a bank full of noises and a Kaos pad and wasn’t afraid to use it, the music playing in between acts, too close to Our Lady Peace unplugged to provide any diversion from the wait — Would it all be worth it? The eight, sometimes nine, maybe more members of the Montreal instrumental rock band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor gradually made their way on to the Majestic Theater stage and situated themselves in a semi-circle. First guitars, then violin and upright bass. A buzz was building as each took their spot and added to the drone. The word “HOPE,” was scrawled across the large screen hanging behind the band. The audience arched their necks hoping to catch a glimpse of the shadowy figures on the dimly lit stage. The buzz continued to build, not to a symphonic crescendo of arching guitars, but to a a faint melody. “HOPE.”
How does one describe the sound of Godspeed You! Black Emperor without making them sound like the underground version of Trans-Siberian Orchestra? This is an orchestral and a visual band, with three, sometimes four guitars, two percussionists, two bassists (One who switches between electric and stand-up acoustic) and a violinist. No, there are no Christmas songs and no laser-lights. The imagery is darker — Fire and Hell, upside-down crosses, the phrases “Fuck America,” “Out of Order,” and “The Anatomy of Melancholy.” There is wider array of emotion. In addition to hope and ecstasy, one experiences dread and despondence, beauty and grace, fear and loss.
Yes, it’s the emotion. The emotion hits as Godspeed’s members take that simple melody, be it chamber based, or vaguely Middle Eastern, and construct it one layer at a time over ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes, increasing both the volume and complexity until the sound and its emotion encompasses your entire body. Open your eyes and the screen guides you to overwhelming feelings. Or, close your eyes. The feeling remains.
For nearly two-and-a-half hours, the band guided the assembled crowd of rockers, longhairs, hipsters and squares through one intensely consuming experience after another — Songs and movements of songs like “Moya,” “BBFIII,” and “Terrible Canyons of Static” — From the sheer beauty of a solemn string to the white-hot intensity of four guitars wailing. They gave us hope and so much more. This was our church, our hymn and our choir. This was our salvation and our eternal damnation, and it ended as the night began, with a smoldering buzz. One at a time, they put their instruments down and gave their bows, and their waves and their courteous smiles as they exited the stage.