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Saturday, 4 November 2017

GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR/ WIRE (GIG-GOING ADVENTURES)

GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR
Brighton Dome, Mon 23rd Oct




After me telling everyone who would listen that Godspeed had reached their apogee through ditching the pseudo-classicism for greater sonic adventurism, they’ve come out with their most classical album yet! ‘Luciferian Towers’ stays on the same post-hiatus roll as it’s predecessors, but seems much more influenced by at least the non-rock music sometimes umbrella-termed as ‘classical’. You can hear Morricone in ’Anthem For No State’ and perhaps even a touch of Gershwin in the title track.

As is their wont, they play a near two hour set which includes the new album in full. Though it’s probably significant that their last two releases have been their shortest. (Forty and forty-four minutes respectively.) To generalise more than a little, much early Godspeed seemed primarily about dynamics so required duration to make it’s moves in. Expansiveness was its home turf. Whereas the new tracks go a lot further in less space, do more in less time.

‘Fam/Famine’, for example, starts with a violin and double bass duet that could come from a recital. But the other instruments slowly pour in, overcoming the distinct melodic lines, like the sea breaching and dissolving a sandcastle. It’s one of the band’s most serene tracks. Though at other points they use more popular music devices, such as locking some instruments in a holding pattern and moving others around them.

The two old tracks of their last appearance is now down to one - ‘BBF3’ off ‘Slow Riot’. And, though the tour setlist seems to have varied a little from night to night, that’s a pattern they pretty much held to. 
Which, to be honest, still seems one too many for me. Pastures new are so much richer, it makes me wonder if they feel obliged to retain at least one of the taped spoken word sections they used to be so known for.

The accompanying film show (projected as they’re always keen to point out, by a full band member) starts with the word “Hope”, passes through industrial, natural and abstract scenes before ending up with riot footage. Which is reminiscent of the “grand demands” which accompanied the new album’s press release. And yet despite such anarchist affiliations, their shows couldn’t be any less like those hardcore or anarcho-punk gigs of old. By chance a friend was on security that night, who confessed afterwards that from a crowd control standpoint the night was such a non-event she nearly fell asleep.

But there’s a reason for that, in fact quite a good one. People are keen to pin many and seemingly contradictory labels on the band – funereal, anthemic, apocalyptic, euphoric – that perhaps we should stop trying to sort them out and see that as the point. As said after the last gig: “You're never sure whether Godspeed's tumultuous sound is of something collapsing or being built up, or even if there's that much difference between the two.”

The late Sixties might have been the last time songs could come over as genuinely insurrectionary - ‘Volunteers’, ‘Five To One’ and all the rest. Even by the punk days, like adulterated street speed, the agitation was already being cut with nihilism. True, corners of anarcho-punk kept up the “rise up” rhetoric. But that just confirmed what bubble worlds they lived in, their sound and fury signifying nothing.

Whereas the music of Godspeed, grandeur combined with ambiguity, perhaps sums up our era. All we can be sure of is that things cannot possibly stay the same, our only certainty the lack of certainty. What happens next we may not know until it’s upon us. As the band themselves said in a Guardian interview: “We're at a particular junction in history where it's clear that something has to give: problem is that things could tip any which way. We're excited and terrified.” 

The gig poster I associate with the lightning-struck Tower of the Tarot, transferred to suburbia. The projected word ‘Hope’ which starts the show is not rendered in the big block letters of the Obamacists’ favourite poster. It looks like it’s been crudely scratched into a wall. The image of it is flickering, tentative.

In another of the aspects of the Sixties which now seems strange to us, musicians were seen as figureheads if not leaders. Whereas Godspeed are almost anonymous, band members entering the stage one by one to add to a slow building drone, playing (as ever) in a circle in near-darkness, exiting without fanfare, never acknowledging the audience. The lyrics, the place from where the rallying calls came to be made, are entirely absent. True there is something post-modern to it all. It seems less new music than setting existing music in new forms, but perhaps some of that is inevitable. It’s tumultous music for tumultuous times.

And if you take to this, part of ’Bosses Hang’ from Glasgow…



…you may like this. The full show from Rennes…



WIRE
The Haunt, Brighton, Fri 27th Oct



Wire were among the most archetypical of the British post-punk bands; inscrutably cool, rigorously impatient of cliché and the done-before, dismissive of excess, ceaselessly intellectually curious, firing out furiously nonsensical lyrics seemingly plundered from a Dadaist’s scrapbook, passionate and dispassionate in equal measure. We in Lucid Frenzy HQ have been lucky enough to see them three times before, and blogged about them twice.

Now it seems they’ve somehow reached their fortieth anniversary. (Well, discounting a five-year hiatus in the Eighties.) Though they have a new album out, ’Silver/Lead’, such is the breadth of musical ground they cover I figure they must be turning the occasion over to their history. In fact, a post-gig perusal of setlist sites suggest they do play a fair few new songs. Whichever, anyone caught claiming guitar music to be inherently limited should have been forced to attend one of their gigs, the better to taste his own words.

True, such eclecticism doesn’t always pay off. As said of their Albert appearance two and a half years ago, some of the more recent material has shown indie tendencies. Admittedly quirky indie, never descending to the Teenage Fanclub level, but indie nonetheless. At one point frontman Colin Newman proudly introduces a track as from the least liked Wire album, and alas it matches the description. But such moments are exception not rule.

The early tracks are the easiest to spot, short sharp shocks, leaping into action like tight-wound springs set loose. But there’s also two quite psychedelic numbers played back to back, where the guitars somehow manage to sound sharp and phased at the same time.

The main set ends with a powerful, extended riff-driven track, every iteration of it like another layer of sandpaper rubbing at your ears, the punch of hard rock with none of the chest-puffing stuff, before breaking into a freeform freakout as the stage lights dim. But perhaps the significant thing about Wire, in a similar way to the Ex, is the way they can explore so many different styles while still sounding just like themselves. Happy Fortieth!

Not from anywhere near Brighton…

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