What I Learned at the Godspeed You! Black Emperor Show


Last night, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the celebrated post-rock band from Montreal, Quebec, played to a sold-out crowd in Detroit. This was the last American date of their reunion tour. I was lucky enough to be a part of the experience and learned a couple things along the way.

How to Endure “the wait”

The plan was to meet some out-of-town friends before the show. I hadn’t seen them in a few months, so I looked forward to this. I found them at the bar next to the venue, wanting to drink there instead of inside the stage area where we could have had a good spot in the crowd. This was not what I had in mind. Having waited almost a decade to see Godspeed, I was not about to spend my time getting drunk in a bar. One of them shared my sentiment and together we headed for the stage, where we began “the wait.”

“The wait” is what happens when you enter a venue early knowing full well that the music won’t start for at least an hour and a half. Buy an overpriced beer (or two) and claim your spot in the crowd. If you have a friend, feel free to banter with them on the idea of “reunion shows,” fanboyism and people in the crowd who are not like you; if you don’t have a friend, attempt to make one or just stare idly at your iPhone. Be sure to speak loud enough so that everyone within a two-body radius can hear your conversation. Do this to boost your ego or give loners the opportunity to join the conversation.

In a sold-out venue, if you move from this spot for any reason, you will lose it. This means no going to the bathroom, no smoke breaks, no additional beers. Should you choose to partake in any of these activities, you will need to claim a new spot or become “that person,” the one who pushes through the crowd muttering “excuse me” in order to reclaim an original spot. Please, plan ahead and don’t be that person.

People of All Ages like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Hate Noise

There were a lot of people there. The smell of sweat and pot combined to form a noxious gas that wafted around us. I noticed that there were a lot of X’s on hands and wondered where all the underage kids came from. I wondered how many of them had heard about Godspeed from seeing the Pineapple Express. This thought made me laugh, a lot.

I also stood next to an older, gray-haired man with a woman at his side and someone who was presumably their son. Are these progressive parents or are they just accompanying their kid? The son seemed of age, so they must be here because they want to be, I thought. When the opening act, a one-man noise band, took the stage, the father yelled, “it’s about time!” I decided that I did not like this guy.

My initial reaction to seeing a noise act open this show was, this is not the right place. A theater filled with 1500 people ready to see some “totally epic post-rock”—how will they react? Within the first two minutes of the set, everyone around me decided that they hated what was happening. I heard this opinion repeat itself in pockets around the theater and eventually the collective speech became louder than the noise.

I would have felt bad for the performer, Sick Llama, if his set wasn’t so damn amazing. The audience may have not understood him, but he understood us. The tones he created were about feeling and tension—just as the music Godspeed creates is about feeling and tension. I knew that this was true when he overcame the audience’s chatter and my empty beer cup started to vibrate in my hand. After the set, my friend commented that she could feel the bass thumping her chest. This was true, I felt it as well.

When Godspeed came out and began their set, the older, gray-haired gentleman near me started to rock back and forth, and shake his head as if he could not believe what he was hearing and seeing. I decided that, maybe, this guy was all right after all.

Moments that Pass Can Be Found Again

On my drive to Detroit, I had an introspective moment: this concert would have meant much more to me if I had seen the band play when they were last in the area, eight years ago. At that time I was a Godspeed fanatic and wanted desperately to be there. I forget the reason why, it may have been that I couldn’t find a ride or had school the next day, but I wasn’t able to make it to the concert. That is one of my biggest regrets, musically speaking and otherwise.

Now that I had the opportunity to see them, I didn’t know how to feel. I should have been excited, but I wasn’t. I would say that it was more of a curiosity. For years I built this event up in my mind and at no point did I think it would actually happen. I wondered, had my moment passed?

I thought about other moments. I thought about 20-somethings who “miss out on” the college experience because they decided to commute instead of live on campus and women who “miss out” on motherhood because they never found “the one.” Suddenly my moment seemed insignificant. I tried to not think about this and instead turned up the volume on my phone, playing Lil B loud enough so that I could do nothing but rap along with “I’m On My Grind.”

When the band performed, I let these thoughts go. Twenty minutes into their set, I began to feel the way I did when I was a teenager—skeptical, hopeful. Being hopeful in Michigan right now is an interesting, warm sensation. It feels new. I melted a little as everything burned itself out around me. I started to lose focus on time, hypnotized by images of old blueprints, billowing smokestacks and a single word, “hope,” as it flashed on the wall behind the band. It was 11PM, then 11:46PM, then 12:25AM. Then it was over.

After I shuffled out of the venue to meet up with my friends from earlier, we walked to our cars and talked about things unrelated to the show, like how the steam spewing from Detroit’s manholes burns skin and briefly turns you into the Toxic Avenger. Despite how disturbing and sad it appeared, I liked this.

On my drive home I didn’t put music on. Instead I allowed the “full” feeling in my ears to spread. Ultimately, moments that you miss allow the creation of entirely new ones. This concert might not have affected me the way it should have years ago, but still, it affected me.

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image – Justin Lynham