Godspeed You! Black Emperor @ Leeds Met, Leeds 25.07.11

What free and easy lives musicians must lead right? To play in a rock band for a living can hardly be called work when all you do is turn up at the venue, play a few chords on your guitar and then lap up the applause. Godspeed You! Black Emperor turn this theory on its head. With incredible attention to detail and a classical sense of architecture, these are people who graft for their pay.

Jul 25th, 2011 at Leeds Met / By Jack Sibley
Godspeed You! Black Emperor Standing in the silent cavern that was to be the band’s canvas for the night, a low drone spent a good five minutes slowly making itself known. As tension built and nails were bitten, the smell of anticipation rose from a crowd made up of the dedicated sort of fans you only find at ATP events. The drone rose and the band sloped onto the dimly lit stage, launching (or perhaps fading) into their first piece and for the next twenty or so minutes we were subject to ‘Albania’ – a soundscape of epic proportions.

Continuing on, the band’s setlist for tonight took on the form of a series of drapes being slowly pulled back to reveal great tapestries. Tapestries that could be majestic and noble or lowly and tragic but were always created with such learned artistry that you could be swept up into it with ease. Perhaps starting with an oscillating violin melody, a trance like state could be attained from the outset. The audience were pulled deeper and deeper into a hypnotic slump as more and more layers were added and the sound was bulked out. Then, all of a sudden, it was broken and you’d find yourself surfacing again with a clearer picture of the piece than seems possible considering the expanse of time it had inhabited.

And to watch them work was a joy. With pure concentration, the nine members were connected with their instruments and each other in a way that’s hard to understand. Subtle signals were passed back and forth as the band kept tight and together even in the toughest areas. Meanwhile, projections of things like ancient texts and symbols or the word ‘hope’ spelt out in twigs were flung onto the back walls from genuine reel-to-reel analogue projectors, providing a visual stimulus that only added to the hypnotic sensation.

Two hours after they’d begun and Godspeed You! Black Emperor had finished their shift, creating one last mess of noise as spaced out cymbal hits marked the final gunshots to the head of the night. With utmost concentration throughout and no distractions between pieces, they had worked to bring us the best they could offer. Admittedly they are still no menial wage-slaves but this is work they take deadly seriously. Construction workers? Architects? Whatever else they may be, first and foremost, Godspeed You! Black Emperor are classical artists of the highest order.