Report: Godspeed You! Black Emperor Live In S.F.


At the ancient Warfield Theatre,
on Feb. 19, the Montreal
combo managed to sonically outflank the nearby jumbo jets.


By Jud

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.


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


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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