GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR bring instrumental genius to Tokyo

On Tuesday night, SHATTERJAPAN was lucky enough to catch elusive post-rock group GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR (GY!BE) at Ebisu Liquidroom, Tokyo. This genre-defining group from Canada formed in 1994, and has since released a mere four albums and one EP due to a seven-year hiatus from 2003 to 2010. The band’s latest effort, a four-track album entitled “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” emerged last year into the welcome arms of fans and to rave reviews from critics everywhere.

To open, each member slowly filtered onto the stage one at a time, picking up their respective instruments and contributing to the ominous build-up of the first track “Hope Drone.” Two drum kits, three guitarists, bass guitar, double bass, violin plus electronic accompaniment made for an extremely full and powerful sound, one perfectly suited to the magnitude of the band’s music. You wouldn’t even call most of GY!BE’s tracks “songs,” rather sprawling instrumental movements, the likes of which commonly range up to 20 minutes in length. Aptly named “Behemoth,” the unrecorded track reserved exclusively for live performances and the fourth song fans heard on Tuesday night, is a massive 44 minutes long. As a result, the band was able to perform a full two-hour set upon the back of technically only four tracks.

Four of the eight band members (usually nine, the second bass guitarist was inexplicably absent) were seated for the entirety of the performance, and nobody moved around too much, rather GY!BE let the music do the moving for them, the crowd raising arms for the goosebumps-inducing crescendos of each song. Not that the band could shift around much if they wanted to anyway; most of the stage was taken up by numerous boards of effects pedals and mixers scattered all over the floor. This lack of movement rendered it a show that may have otherwise been visually unexciting, were it not for the continuous film reels projected behind the band. These images, consisting mainly of gloomy landscapes, weathered houses and static, made a powerful accompaniment to the epic, rolling instrumentals for which the band is renowned.

GY!BE closed their performance with “The Sad Mafioso,” a stunning movement from near-18-minute track “East Hastings,” an edited version of which featured in film “28 Days Later.” They exited the stage without an encore in the same manner they had entered – one by one to the lengthy applause of the audience.