Godspeed You! Black Emperor live review

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O2 Academy, Brixton, 21st November 2013

‘I’m sorry my comments are harsh’, I write in the dim light of the coach as it lurches on, ‘It’s not your fault. I was watching some disappointing post-rock at the time.’ I read a classmate’s draft final piece in the cold culmination of hours of travel, sickness, boredom. The unsteadiness of the floor that never let you get comfortable, always making you feel as if you were falling backwards.

The supporting act was dismal, completely unsuited screaming in which the solo female started it all by playing a droning note and staring into the audience for a full minute in an attempt to intimidate. She then played a succession of synthesized loops of her bashing metallic things and screamed unintelligible lyrics to an audience of people looking up at the architecture rather than face their embarrassment. I’m not going to give her name because I’m not qualified to say whether her work was objectively bad, just almost maliciously badly chosen. A middle aged woman weaved through the crowd in front of me to take the lady’s picture. I can only assume it was her mother. Her set ended ten minutes later to polite applause.

I’d like to say Godspeed‘s main set made up for this but the more I look back on it, the more it just strikes me as more of the same. The band themselves performed in typical standoffish style, creeping soundlessly onstage and then weaving tortured tuning-up into a droning opening track, ‘Hope Drone’ to be specific, only so lurching and so un-inspiredly tortured I couldn’t find much hope except relief that they’d started so they must logically finish. Working tuning up into a song is a thing that sounds cool until you’re experiencing it. It wasn’t the interesting glimpse into the musical craft I was hoping for, just a kind of twisting of the knowledge that the audience has to take what they’re given.

The films loops and little animated effects projected onstage as accompaniment was to me one of the most effective parts of their set. With the band either shrouded in darkness or facing with their backs to the audience, there wasn’t much to look at except the swinging of the violinist’s bow arm, repeatedly betraying the fact that the violin’s audio itself kept dipping in and out of audibility. It just wasn’t as lush as you’d expect from them, just muddy, and this was from near the stage.

Godspeed‘s tracks are long, I was no stranger to this going along to see them, I knew what I was getting into. But whereas on their recording each note seems poised at just the right point to tear emotions from you, every note they played live seemed lurching and dragging. The songs didn’t really build just continue, the middle of the set blurred into indistinct droning in which I had a good stare at the floor and those around me. The anomalies in the crowd bobbed their head in unflinching 4/4. Ordinarily this wouldn’t work, shouldn’t work, this is post-rock, but no, they seemed to get it. They bobbed and bobbed ad infinitum and the songs droned on until there was a pause and I was obligated to applaud.

They ended their set with palpable reluctance with something most of us selfishly wanted from them, something from f#a#. A cut down and mechanical segment from East Hastings played out with finality. As it ended my friend said, ‘let’s go, it’s over.’ People stayed to clap, to try and wring them out again but in was obvious there was nothing more to come. Again, without a word they slunk offstage and joyfully we got to leave.

What I always liked about Godspeed was that with their records you never quit know what you’re going to get next. A simply, slow succession of notes can floor you, make you wonder why no-one has recorded that sequence before. But their performance that day just reminded me how galling it can be when music is calculated to give you the bare minimum of feeling. You can’t complain, you technically got what you wanted, but it’s a betrayal. Reading a fellow student’s work I latched upon a sentence that summed up the epidemic of pandering in Creative Writing, just like such half-arsed gigs. There’s an equation I developed for a passable sentence in Creative Writing, based on this sentence that burned in my head as a remembrance of this gig. Here it is;

[Noun], [quantity of abstractly related nouns with abstract related quality] in [anthropomorphic space].

And so it goes;

The band, eight painful constrictions in aloof cement.

Sarah K.

Review: Columbo ‘Murder by the Book’ (Season 1, Episode 1)

Everybody has at least one tiny voice, tucked away at the back of their head, that, against their better judgement, they just cannot help but believe. For some, that voice might say ‘There are monsters hiding in the dark’, for others ‘You are destined for greatness’, and for yet others ‘There is a God’. The voice at the back of my head (or, at least, one of them) swears blind that: ‘Stephen Fry is right about everything’.

This is, of course, a common condition. Just recently I convinced a fellow Bloggeteer that he was mistaken about something simply by showing him a video of Stephen Fry expressing a sentiment at odds with said Bloggeteer’s views.

I have the good fortune, in this case, of having already held this sentiment to be true before I’d seen Mr Fry express it so eloquently, and can therefore be (more or less) certain that this belief of mine is a result of my own thoughts and experiences, not of my tendency to take whatever he says as gospel.

But I don’t always have this luxury. Sometimes Mr Fry will say something on a topic of which I know nothing. To save me from wasting valuable energy thoughtfully considering the validity of Mr Fry’s comments, the voice at the back of my head steps in and informs me that ‘Stephen Fry is right about everything’ and puts the matter to an end. I know I really shouldn’t relax into this lazy way of thinking. But I, like many others, for one reason or another, just can’t help lending that little bit extra credibility to whatever thoughts or opinions Mr Fry might express.

Incidentally, I apologise if you began reading this post believing it was about Columbo. I hope I can reassure you, however, with one simple, solid fact: This is a post about Columbo.

So I was watching an episode of QI a month or two ago. Here’s a clip:

‘I do happen to think Columbo is the greatest television series ever made’. The words of Stephen Fry.

And with that, I had but little choice. I was compelled to bump Columbo right to the top of my ‘TV To Watch’ list. Because if Stephen Fry says it’s worth watching, it must be worth watching, right?

Apparently so. ‘Murder by the Book’, the first ever episode of the show (well, not really) is wonderfully unique to me. I admit I have seen quite a few detective shows in my time, mainly because about 50% of my parents’ viewing, at least when I was younger, seems to have been made of them. Taggart, Morse, Midsomer Murders, Silent Witness, Wycliffe, to name a few, are all shows I am (or was) familiar with.

But Columbo is something different. In fact, it could be said this isn’t really a murder mystery at all. Not only do we see the victim spend his last few hours with his murderer in the opening scenes of the episode, we are left in no doubt about who kills who. Much like Luther (which errs more towards race-against-time thriller), the story, for the audience, is not about piecing together various clues, along with the detective, in order to deduce who the killer is. It is about something else entirely.

In ‘Murder by the Book’ we follow the killer through the episode, from committing the murder to succumbing (surprisingly readily) to arrest. There are few scenes without him. There are fewer scenes between our hero Columbo and any of the other characters (only one that I remember). The episode tags along with our killer as he tidies up, ties up loose ends and plays innocent with Columbo; the detective pops up here and there, but it is the killer who is at the centre of the story.

Perhaps Columbo was just part of a wave of programmes at that time structured in this way, but the detective shows of the 90s and 00s that I’m familiar with would never dare be so bold.

Not only does this feel fresh, at least to me, but it is also the perfect way to demonstrate the brilliance of Columbo’s method. Columbo’s appearances are placed in the shadow of the other issues that the killer is dealing with in the aftermath of his crime. This shows how easy it is for the killer to disregard the little man. The detective plays dumb, asking trivial questions and apparently having very little grasp of the details of the case, and as a result the killer underestimates him. Columbo appears unimportant. As I learnt watching QI, Columbo is in fact using the Socratic method, and it is this that gives him the edge. With the killer’s guard down, Columbo can outwit him.

As we the audience follow the killer, we can see how subtle this method is in a way we would never appreciate from Columbo’s side of the story. We can understand how the murderer, preoccupied with tying up the various loose ends, fails to take this incompetent little man, who only pops up from time to time, as much of a threat. But this is his downfall. The brilliance of Columbo’s method could not be exhibited in a better fashion.

So it appears Stephen Fry may have been right once again. This first episode of Columbo sets out clearly a strong, intriguing concept for the show, promising some intelligent and engrossing story telling. While it’s (so far) certainly not the best television show I’ve ever seen, it is indeed deserving of recommendation. Thanks, Mr Fry.

James.