By Andrew W. Karpan
Finishing up their three-show stint in the NYC, long-fighting champions of standstill rock Godspeed You! Black Emperor laid Brooklyn’s Warsaw to slow, devastating and final ruin Thursday night. Last night’s show saw the Canadian behemoths lording from on high, presenting a flurry of new and recent material intermixed with a pleasant highlight or two of their decade past: “Moya” hums along just as well as “Lamb’s Breath” – fierce movement into and out of the proverbial dark—kicking it off with their longtime post-reunion opener “Hope Drone,” a desperately scrawled projection of HOPE flickered on the backstage screen, as the film itself seemed to march toward its own slow disintegration, Basinski-style. That’s how you sing to them modern times, folks.
On the subject of modern times, Thursday’s show brought with it the most punk of Godspeed’s openers for the week week (multi-instrumentalist Samara Lubelski was tacked on last-minute at Music Hall of Williamsburg last night and Amen Dunes played Terminal 5 on Tuesday). Downtown Boys—ripping their “bilingual political dance sax punk” fresh out of Providence, Rhode Island on Jersey’s own Don Giovanni Records, label mates to The Screaming Females. To note, whatever Marissa Paternoster does to 90s grunge sensibilities, the Downtown Boys tear from the 80s punk scene: Sandinista-era Clash updated to Gossip-level punk speed. It only helps that contemporary Marxist discourse has become even more about intersectionality; as a band, they’re more multilingual and multiracial than Joe Strummer could ever dream of. Speaking of the 80s’s, their cover of the Boss’ “Dancing in the Dark” is to die for (and I pretty much hate everything about tired mid-career Bruce) and, front woman, Victoria Ruiz’s stage presence is everything we love about Kathleen Hanna: “This is about looking at yourself and all those preconceptions breathing on your neck and telling them no!”
Yeah – we’re for it.
Fiercely non-nostaglic, on the other hand, was Godspeed’s own set; eschewing longtime concert staples like the closest twenty-minute sojourn the band has to a hit, “We Drift Like Worried Fire” for this year’s Asunder Sweet and Other Distress played in full. Which was a surprising relief: there were some reservations toward the band’s first post- reunion record but given the full space of performance, minimalist challenging clunkers like the titular “Asunder Sweet” are rendered in front of a screen display that recalls the more sublime scenes in Days of Heaven, the kind of experience that avoids blowing over you by blowing through you; every drop felt like the outside weekend drizzle that winks toward the hurricane ahead.
An even more welcome surprise was the new material Godspeed has been letting loose, of late. Coming in right before an epically buzzing closer of “Mladic,” the new song these fine Quebecers have been fine-tuning is a monstrous stomp that recalls some of their work on the better half of 2002’s Yanqui U.X.O but twists it toward the furor of self-consuming market systems; soundtracking a collage of collapsing commodity trades, the new Godspeed is old school DeLillo twisted on a sprocket and projecting the subconscious tyrannies inlaid in the very rhythms of urban planning. A locomotive thump churns through the song’s second half that seared not unlike political division, the band’s omnipresent and giddy ‘us vs. them’ rhetoric rendered as literal as the spilt screen display, shouting in two languages not unlike the Downtown Boys just hours ago.
Andrew W. Karpan is a Contributing Writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org