There are certain venues that feel like a requirement as a music fan in LA. Legendary places like The Greek and The Hollywood Bowl are oft mentioned major venues, small stages like The Troubador and The Smell are often rightly tossed in the mix, yet somehow The Wiltern always seems to get left out of the mix. As a primer for non-LA residents, The Wiltern is a large theater style venue in the middle of Koreatown, that boasts excellent sound, a gorgeous stage, and on May 23rd, 2018, played host to one of its best shows of all time.
Marisa Anderson was the chosen opener, a relatively unknown guitar player, especially when in comparison to the titans of post rock that are GY!BE. Yet as soon as she began to play it was plain to see why she was chosen. Through much of her guitar playing, despite being a single instrumentalist, her guitar sang as if it were legion. Cleary influenced by the band she was opening for, her guitar was noisy, heavily reverb filtered and had more than just a hint of blues to it. Her songs also each had a narrative structure, though they would be difficult to discern without her monologue between each song. If there were any knock that could be levied against her it would be in her awkward nature when addressing the crowd, though it never felt in the way of the show itself. Her demeanor grew in confidence as she continued with the show, each monologue becoming more and more well-tailored to the audience. Most importantly the songs shone through, serving as an excellent primer for the main attraction with her skillful playing and consistently engaging songs.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor has never been a traditional band. Looking back on them from the current era, it’s easy to see them as a standard, something that post rock created, and in some sense that’s a testament to their longevity and influence. In actuality, they are one of the unshakeable cornerstones of the genre, being among the first to create iterations that bands like Explosions in the Sky would build cinematic empires around. Seeing them live, it becomes apparent that they are still leagues ahead of nearly all peers and imitators.
One of the most notable hallmarks of their shows are the video reels that constantly play in the background. Most bands these days have some sort of onscreen visuals, but few, if any, incorporate them as effectively as GY!BE does. Oftentimes concert videos are either used to show back of house a larger view of the performer or they contain flashy visuals of minimal substance. GY!BE allows the visuals, a looping set of footage from wars, riots and abandoned buildings, tell the story of their songs, further adding to the already intense atmosphere of the songs. Speaking of the songs, intense is barely a fitting word. They’re music to a revolution, or perhaps a revelation.
Many concert goers tend to make the assertion that you don’t really understand a band until you have seen them live, an assertion that is largely false, but GY!BE fits that claim. No matter how much someone loves this band, they demand to be seen live, each drumbeat is an earthquake, every crescendo an atom bomb. There were times that the peaks had grown so loud the air seemed to move in one solid motion, as if it were an ocean, with the audience being mere fishing ships helpless against the force of its waves.
Despite being entirely wordless, this was one of the most emotionally charged concerts ever. The visuals of riots coupled with the blossoming crescendos led to a completely unique experience, and when the audience could focus on something other then their bleeding eardrums, they were completely captivated. That the band can get away with playing these kinds of songs at that volume for two whole hours speaks to their skill as performers. Not a single note felt out of place, despite having eight performers simultaneously playing a series of 20-plus minute songs, and not a second of it grew boring.
There are certain events that linger in memories. The birth of a child, a graduation, a marriage. All major life events that build us as people, a GY!BE live show hits the level just below that. Nothing quite compares to the bowel shaking, chest cracking force of their crescendos, or the soft, whispering dream of the valleys in their songs. They do not put on concerts, they make experiences, and they ensure that each show will be remembered for years to come. There is no excuse for missing them on this tour, there’s simply nothing quite like them.
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