Well, I guess I can cross another one off the bucket list. I finally saw God's Pee live a couple nights ago, and it was as intense as expected. Like my last visit to the Town Ballroom, it was a chilly gloomy night, a precursor of sorts to the chaos of sound that awaited. This also marked one of the few times I've been back to the city of Buffalo since I moved in the summer. I came with my girlfriend, and we set up right below the projectors, which were a few rows up. She wanted a place to sit if necessary, and was concerned about the volume, but honestly, it's hard to find a bad position in this venue, and I could see everything with almost no problem, so I was okay with it.
Again, as before, things moved in a pretty efficient fashion, quite different to most of the other venues I've been to in town. That's one thing that's hard to fault the Town Ballroom for. I expected the show to be packed, and by the time Godspeed went on, it was getting there, but it seems a good deal of people skipped on Tony Conrad, who opened the show. I'm not surprised, given the headliner's status nowadays, but it always disappoints me to see such disrespect afforded to people who pour their hearts into their work, even if the results are less than stellar. Which, in all honesty, was the case here.
Professor Conrad went on stage around 7:45 (doors were at 7), with six other string players in tow to make up a septet. Conrad was obviously on violin, as were two others, one guy played cello, another contrabasse, yet another either an electric cello or 3/4 bass, and I think there was also a viola in there. Conrad also used what looked like a bow combined with a mallet to strike some stringed instrument, which he also bowed at one point. The band was told that they had until 8:30 to play, and they filled those 45 minutes with a largely shapeless, droning, harsh noise wall of minimalism. There were points where it was almost quite literally ear-splitting.
As harsh as the performance was overall, it was not without its moments. The players were talented in extended techniques, especially Professor Conrad himself. At one point he was bowing the violin near the head, and then he began unstringing it, making for the most interesting moment of the performance, in terms of sound. My girlfriend and I both remarked at the end of the performance that we should have used earplugs, and it was true, but my ears recovered quickly, in time for Godspeed You! Black Emperor to take the stage.
A seemingly typical Town Ballroom quick takedown and setup occurred between sets, and I took a restroom break, only to come back and hear the opening drone from F#A#∞. The lady asked me if I'd hear the announcement about Sophie. She had a family emergency relating to her father, so the band would be performing without a violin. It was sad to hear, but nice to see the band soldier on and dedicate the show to Sophie's dad.
For the most part, the lacking violin didn't harm the songs in a great way, other than "Mladic," which was a wall of noise with its main melody stripped away. The opening "Hope Drone" was wonderful as each band member came on stage and began adding layers. My pulse quickened when all the layers began meshing and "HOPE" began flickering on the screen: it was when reality began to hit; I was finally seeing Godspeed live, after so long of thinking it would never happen.
As noisy and oppressively loud as "Mladic" was, it was still wonderful to hear and to feel the incredible power of the Middle Eastern rhythms. New drummer, Tim Herzog, was especially impressive, in this song, and all the others, beating the drum kits with near reckless abandon. When "Mladic"'s feedback dissipated, there was a moment of quiet before the familiar "Murray Ostril" dialogue began. The audience erupted in cheers to welcome the opening of "Monheim." Played pretty much perfectly, this song that I know as well as an old standard was a delight to experience.
Once again there was little time to catch our breath after the end of "Monheim" before Tim began hammering the drums again to herald the oncoming "Behemoth," Godspeed's newest song. And what a song it is. Tim certainly got his workout in the first part, playing the same heavy as shit drumbeat for roughly fifteen minutes as Dave, Moya, Efrim, Mauro, Thierry and Aidan worked up a torrent of noise and melody. The second part of the song was a long passage of spaced out ambiance, that was honestly too long. Normally I enjoy these parts of Godspeed's music as much as any other, but here the mind wandered. As was to be expected, the pace picked up as the song approached its climax, but again the crescendo section seemed to last longer than it should have, with many measures repeated seemingly for the sake of repetition. At 45 minutes, the song is as long as many albums, and it may grow on me with time, but at this point, I think it still has a few kinks to work out.
The band finished with another crowd pleaser in the form "The Sad Mafioso." The extended intro was interesting at points, but was another moment of the band overindulging a bit. The rest of the song was as great as expected, although it was still difficult to pick out the nuances when things really started flying, as the volume was still louder than it should have been. The band ended "The Sad Mafioso" with a wall of noise and feedback, and walked off stage one by one, leaving Tim to fiddle with the amps a bit, and Dave to sit back with a beer and watch the projections fizzle into static. Finally, out of the noise, came the slowed down sample of "By My Side" from Godspell: "Where are you going, where are you going?," appropriately mirroring the opening my mimicking the closing of the first album. As this was playing and Dave left the stage, the Town Ballroom's house music began playing, giving it an eerie, odd feeling that seemed to sum up the night.
So, yes, it was a good show, with few spotty points that dragged it down from being great. I was thinking that this would easily top seeing Thee Silver Mt. Zion, even though the latter band is my favorite, and I enjoy their music more than Godspeed's. I was wrong, however, as the intimacy of TSMZ, even in their louder rock phase wins out over the current just a bit too big style of the reformed Godspeed. I still wish I could have seen them in their heyday, but this is an acceptable replacement, and I am content.
"The Sad Mafioso"