Mavis's Dream Three

 

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picture courtesy Mandi Apple

Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Bristol New Trinity

 

 

 

In theory, a converted church should be the perfect place to see a band like GYBE!. Empty, ethereal, almost sacred, with angels looking down from on high and a faint bluey-red light filtering down through the stained glass. Hushed whispers as the band takes the stage, for we are in a former sacred space, an environment in which over centuries has spawned music at once both enlivening and amazing. Yet in reality, the New Trinity seems to be stuck on a traffic island in a dodgy area of the city. Outside it looks great. In fact, as the doors open nearly 90 minutes after they were supposed to, the impatient crowd outside gets plenty of opportunity in the biting wind. Itís getting to the stage where, as the rush hour traffic dies down, weíre anticipating the GYBE! dynamic. Oh look, bus goes past Ė LOUD BIT! Traffic disappears Ė shhh quiet bit - lorry drives past Ė LOUD BIT again. And on a night when all the planets are supposed to converge, the sky is clear and the stars are out, it seems only fair that the only thing we can hear is the sound of an organ, emanating from a locked side door that we discover on a walk round to stave off the cold. Church, stars, planets, organ, intense band. The portents seem to be right. Only theyíre not.

Maybe we should have guessed that by the time the doors open at ten to nine, we walk in and discover Godspeed arenít due on till after eleven, and wonít finish till just after one. Now maybe in rock and roll land, this is no big shakes, but when youíve been keeping your audience waiting for ages already, only for them to get in and find thereís STILL two hours before the headliners go on, youíre going to piss a proportion of your audience off before youíve even walked on. And while this may be fine for the die-hard fans, for the uncommitted or merely curious it kills off any real willingness to give you a decent go anyway. Especially if you get a band as dire as Fly Pan Am as first opener. Three beardy blokes, all sat down, making taciturn post-rock machinations with Ė oooh, hereís our gimmick Ė lots of odd electronic noises. One of them was/is in Labradford, but it so doesnít matter. They bore everyone within about six minutes, and you worry that this is maybe what Godspeed would be like without the film loops.

A pause, then, while we admire the false ceiling in the church (karate club upstairs, apparently), read the notices saying DO NOT TAPE YOUR CABLES TO THE WALL, PLEASE HANG THEM FROM THE HOOKS PROVIDED. And whaddya know, thereís hooks running from stage to mixing desk and back again, making a nice shadow on the wall and reminding Mavis of the spaghetti she had for tea. And eventually Icelandic Sigur Ros come on, only the lead singer bloke isnít bald and doesnít sound a bit like BjŲrk. Hello, he says moodily, weíre Sigur Ros. Then he straps on his guitar and...oh-oh. He picks up a bow. Visions of Jimmy Page wankery spring to mind, forty-five minute guitar workouts and songs that never, ever end. But then organ blokey starts up his organ, lead singer opens his mouth and from it emanates a voice that is deep in the netherworld, high but angelic, sweet yet gritty, and from the bowed guitar comes this enormous roar of anger and pity and melancholy. Itís one of those moments which seldom happen at gigs, when everything suddenly works together to produce the most perfect mix, capturing the mood perfectly. Bang, it hits you, and suddenly you pay attention, it captures you and draws you in and wonít allow you to let go even if you wanted to. Forty-five all too brief minutes later, itís over, and, although the entire thing has been conducted in Icelandic, you really donít care. It was majestic, life-affirming and beautiful.

Time to take stock after that, recover, lean against one of the many pillars and have a quick nap before Godspeed. Itís now 10:30, and Mavis has a meeting at 7:30 the next morning. Shuteye, therefore, is rather important, especially seeing itís a good hourís drive home. So it takes Godspeed ages to set up. The woman on the T-shirt stand gets up at the last minute, walks to the stage, casts off her leather jacket and scarf, ties back her voluminous hair, grabs a chair and opens up a cello case. The bloke at the back has spent hours feeding loops of film into four projectors and looks almost ready. And Godspeed take the stage. And fill it, Ďcos itís only tiny and there are nine of them. Itís difficult to say who precisely does what, but the only one standing is making odd percussive noises and playing a mini glockenspiel. The film loops start up, and the band launch into the first track from their New Riot For Zero Kanada EP. And it sounds...well, pretty much like the first track from their New Riot For Zero Kanada EP. Note for note, slow build up for slow build up, loud bit for loud bit. Now, granted, with nine musicians on stage, improvisation may be a little difficult to co-ordinate, but would it be too much to ask for just a little variation from their recorded incarnation? For most bands itís a matter of necessity, that the carefully constructed sound sculptures created lovingly in a wood panelled room in Wales will not be able to be performed verbatim and so therefore a slight amount of rearrangement is in order.

Maybe itís that Godspeed are so tight, so well-drilled and rehearsed that they capture their live sound perfectly on record. But even if they do, why just regurgitate it night after night? Why not push the boat out, wherever, so that thereís something different to latch on to? Without a strong visual focus, the band stand and fall by their music. Granted, they supply film loops and short films tonight, but thereís a limit to the amount of times a person can watch a Montreal police car driving past a brick apartment block before the mind starts to wander. To be frank, it might have been a better idea to put a Godspeed CD on and idly surf the channels on Sky Digital, waiting for a miraculous synchronicity to take place. It sure as hell doesnít happen here. Granted, the atmosphere isnít helped by the Bristol crowd chatting their way through the quiet bits, to the extent that in places Godspeed are drowned out. Thatís not right, and terribly rude. But still tonight a chair may have been a good idea; standing post-rock gigs are not an easy undertaking. But as the evening draws in, the planets converge a little more, and a fair number of the audience are heading for the doors, seemingly disappointed with what they have seen. After nearly an hour, Mavis concurs, and on the drive home nearly gets hit by a joyrider with no lights on and by the police car chasing it. Kind of sums up the evening, really.

 
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