April 4, 2002
Godspeed You Black Emperor : London Hackney Ocean
You go for a piss and hear people whistling their tunes...
After two unremitting hours of improv-orchestral hacking and rearranging, the primary question that remains is: exactly where doGodspeed You Black Emperor! go from here? This band’s modus operandi has always been question ourselves and them. Yet judging by the doe-eyed, open-mouthed silence of the audience, their step up into the Premier League of Cult Bands has elevated them to the sphere of untouchables.
Make no mistake, though, people love this band. You go for a piss and hear people whistling their tunes. And even when Godspeed descend into near-silence, a whisper of bow on cello, a gentle brush of guitar strings, the crowd respond accordingly. They are that special rock entity, a band that sell out cavernous venues like this because, simply, they’re too fucking good to continue cramming themselves onto toilet stages.
To single out specific highlights is largely irrelevant, although the incredible viscera of ‘World Police And Friendly Fires’ certainly warrants this status. No set list is forthcoming tonight, and no new song names. But their new album - consisting, apparently, of three 20-minute ‘movements’ - appears to comprise of abrasive, clanging chords which mutate into vicious noise drone. You’d be forgiven for thinking nothing had happened in Godspeed's world over the last 18 months. But something has, and it happened on September 11.
It is, clearly, trite to ascribe the status of political sages to these nine enigmas, anti-Bonos to a (wo)man. But people haven’t lent weight to Godspeed 's quasi-apocalyptic imagery, their talk of glass towers and crumbling buildings, by chance. As it is, their traditional cinematic backdrop is full of gleaming skyscrapers and piles of rubble marked "NO ENTRY: PROPERTY OF NYPD". And there are rumours, unsubstantiated thanks to Godspeed ’s fabled secrecy, of a song named ‘New York’.
Before the encore, Chris Morris' brilliant ‘Bushwhacked’ cut-up of the President in prime idiot mode gets aired over the PA. None of the nine members utters a word, but their symbolism speaks for them sufficiently. A strange paradox, then: a cult, whose message is a fierce defence of independent thought. A philosophy which has taken Godspeed You Black Emperor! far enough for, at times, anything to seem possible.
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