February 25, 2024

Godspeed You! Black Emperor played Knockdown Center

Post-rock icons Godspeed You! Black Emperor played their first show of 2024 in front of a sold-out crowd at Knockdown Center in Queens as part of the Outline winter program.

The long walk from the subway stop in Brooklyn to the Knockdown Center in Queens requires you to traverse through an industrial section of the city where the boroughs converge, nightlife dies down, and the whistling winter winds are the only soundtrack amongst cars that pass by on the long stretch of city highways. It feels like the most appropriate way to get to a Godspeed You! Black Emperor show and once you arrive at the venue, a monstrous old warehouse with wood beams and brick facades, it's hard to imagine wanting to see them any place else. Taking the stage in their typical darkness, the ensemble filled the room with a low rumble of droning bass as they gather behind their respective instruments: a drum kit, additional percussion sections, three electric guitars, a violin, an electric bass, and more, their line-up recalling a modern symphony more so than an indie rock institution. As the would hope began to flash in a handwritten scrawl on the screen behind them, the band slowly started to shape their buzzing sound into more structured rhythms and melodies that would soon soar to marvelous heights, their massive, moving, and mesmerizing squalls reaching towards the heavens and crashing back down with thunderous results. Behind the band, projections of blossoming flowers, protests, landscapes, forest fires, burning coastlines, free-falling aircrafts, and other dystopian images raged on, the projectionist taking on the task of providing these rather stark visuals in place of your typical lighting effects. Godspeed have always presented themselves as a unit with no clear leader, a democratic group that operates like a well-oiled machine, everyone coming in at their exact right part and no one taking a spotlight to solo or take the attention away from the collective. The physicality of their music also lends itself to a live setting and while they generally sound best when played on tangible media anyway, primarily vinyl with it's locked-grooves and seamless transitions, watching the band slowly build these songs on stage and breathe life into them with each swelling movement highlights just how magical the band can be, the experience like being put in a trance and witnessing things shift from black and white to a full spectrum of color. For so long, Godspeed has felt like a clarion call to the darkness that lay ahead, the reckoning, the apocalypse. Even without offering any lyrics, their music felt poised to soundtrack the end of times. On their most recent album, 2021's G_d's Pee AT STATE'S END!, the band made a shift towards a sound that felt more hopeful, optimistic, and for the first time ever, almost encouraging and this show also gave way to something that felt exciting and blissful. Even if the darkness they long-ago predicted has actually arrived, and looking at the current events of late, that doesn't feel all that far off, their music now hits like an aid or a blocker to the madness. Godspeed is now giving us music that feels inspiring or at times, protective and tonight they debut an album's worth of brand new material which should materialize into an actual record by the end of the year. The new songs were epic and providing thrilling moments that match up with their strongest work of the past, a real treat for fans who were left with their heads spinning, transfixed by what was unfolding in front of them. This setting in particular maximized the percussive elements of the group, the music sounding stronger and hitting with more power than ever before adding even more mysticism to their already legendary status. The final crescendo of the night hit with astronomical force, the strings and percussion rallying together in a unified effort, striking with crushing purpose as if God himself was breaking through to deliver a moment of absolute triumph, totally sublime in every aspect. For an hour and a half, Godspeed You! Black Emperor transcended time and space like only they can and provided an escape from the world at large taking us on a cosmic journey that briefly vanished over a decade ago, but has since returned with full-force to save us from the world they warned us about. To be able to hear the debut of new music from one of the all-time greats was just an extra bonus of the evening. How lucky for us.

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