Report: Godspeed You! Black Emperor Live In S.F.
Originally published on http://blurt-online.com/
By Jud Cost
Sometimes you think crazy things when you start to feel trapped. About halfway into Godspeed You! Black Emperor's opening 12-minute aural assault, I began to wonder if a person could die from listening to music - just sitting there while all your systems completely shut down from sensory overload. Or possibly whether the old Warfield Theatre, an ancient structure built in the 1920's that has seen better days and survived recent attacks by the Stooges and Motorhead, might give up the ghost tonight and implode.
A rafter-rattling bass drone had filled the dusty old hall for the entire 40 minutes it took the band to set up tonight. As the scrawled word "HOPE" flickered on a large screen behind them, the first selection by the notorious Montreal-based octet started out extremely loud (even with earplugs), then just kept getting louder and louder and louder. As someone who had survived Blue Cheer, the '60s poster boys for premature audience deafness who once roamed San Francisco's hippie ballroom scene, Godspeed was on a totally different arc of magnitude tonight.
There were guitars, keyboards, a drum kit and, oddly enough, a standup bass being played onstage by members of the band but, for all you could distinguish from any one player, there might just as well have been a platoon of department-store dummies seated behind the gear. The upright bass is hard to hear on some vintage jazz records. It didn't have a prayer in hell of making a dent in this sonic explosion. The band's sound at full throttle was something akin to being ferried to the space station while strapped to a NASA rocket full of liquid oxygen. At the conclusion of round one, some people screamed and applauded, a few got up and departed, and most sat there stunned as though they'd just witnessed the annihilation of a heavenly body.
When one of the players spoke to the full house in a distinct New York accent after the band completed a second harrowing trip to outer space, it took me back to the good old days of the Terrastock festivals, held in various U.S. and U.K. ports of call more than ten years ago. "When I was a kid, I used to love to go to Coney Island. My parents would take me there, and I even got lost on the beach, but they found me. We used to go there at night sometimes and sleep on the beach. But you can't do that anymore. They've shrunk Coney Island almost down to nothing." It was the perfect intro for one of those Alastair Galbraith-style mind-expansion gems. And GYBE obliged with a perfectly rendered, slow, almost acoustic-sounding coffee and scones number. And then, after a few minutes, it started getting louder and louder again.
As the one-hour mark fast approached, it was plain to see the Godspeed experience had shown most of its portfolio. This had been the triple espresso after last night's bottle of house Cabernet (Beach House and Papercuts at the Fillmore). On the way home, I stopped off in San Bruno to get a cup of decaf and a doughnut to restore my chemical balance. Since the wind was blowing pretty hard after a week of torrential rain, the air traffic for San Francisco International had been re-routed to its alternate takeoff and landing pattern. A 747 jumbo jet flew directly overhead, very low, just as I walked across the parking lot. And it didn't really sound all that loud (even without the earplugs).
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