Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Granada Theater - 10/11/12

Godspeed You! Black Emperor Granada Theater Thursday, October 11

It was one of those rarest of nights in a Dallas music venue. Godspeed You! Black Emperor returned to North Texas after a decade absence to perform music new and old in a way that held the crowd completely spellbound. Shortly after 9p.m., eight band members drifted on the stage, starting with violinist Sophie Trudeau, and into the rumble of "Hope Drone," the song frequently used to warm the band up while hypnotizing the audience. Lasting 30 minutes, the song swelled and receded only to rise again, establishing a recurring theme for the evening.

For the entire performance, the band played in shadow below two streams of projected film, a sepia-tinted train ride on one side of the stage competing with visual static on the other. Streams of images of what appeared to the documents of an oppressive state with subliminal messages ("Fuck America") slipped in, allowing the band deliver its anarchist point of view periodically throughout the evening.

The three guitarists remained seated throughout, surrounded by an ocean of effects boxes and pedals, as was Trudeau. A third station of effects was occasionally manned by guitarist David Bryant, taking the output of the entire band and further manipulating it. The two bassists would combine on electric bass, or one electric and one double bass, depending on what flavor of low-end a particular song demanded. One drummer sat behind a traditional kit, while the other stood and played more eclectic percussive instruments.

The band could range from mournful (the beautiful violin of "Gathering Storm") to Sabbath-like heavy metal. Regardless of the moment, throughout the evening the band played with the precision and detachment of a chamber ensemble. Never acknowledging the audience, they seemed to barely provide each other visual feedback. It was impossible to tell who, if anyone, was pacing the band in its sudden conversion of slow burn to pitched crescendo.

The audience remained rooted throughout. When drinks were ordered it was done so quietly, and the bartenders seemed to try their best to do their jobs discreetly. You could literally hear a pin drop through much of the quiet passages. The evening ended with "Sad Mafioso," from their first album, and when the first clear guitar notes emerged the crowd cheered.

At the end, each performer choose a point to loop their sound, lay down their instrument, discreetly thank the crowd and exit the stage. When the sound finally stopped and the lights were raised, the crowd erupted in pent-up applause, no more hurried to leave the theater than the performance itself.

Opening the evening was Total Life, who presented an unrelenting monosyllabic drone, occasionally varied with a change in oscillation. It was largely lost of the audience, whose applause when the performance ended seemed more from relief than pleasure.

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Doug Davis