Thursday, 16 December 2010

Godspeed You! Black Emperor & Dead Rat Orchestra, Sunday 12th December @ Anson Rooms, Bristol )

It’s the night of ‘The X-Factor’ final, and a group of lads are yelling “Vote for One Direction!” as they drive past the Anson Rooms. Do they realise we’re waiting for the second coming of the Anti-Cowell? For tonight sees the return of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the world’s most passionately uncommercial rock band.

Inside, Colchester’s Dead Rat Orchestra get things started with a set of folky improv. One bloke plays violin solos, while his two associates fiddle with an oddball collection of whistles, bells, and what appears to be a meat cleaver being sharpened on a length of four-by-two. They’re an eccentric but charming bunch, and the sounds they make are varied enough to keep things interesting.

And so it comes to pass that the venue fills with disciples, and Godspeed return to reign for what, at times, feels like a thousand years. The projected backdrop reads “hope”, although the accompanying din – a black drone overlaid with grey noise – suggests despair. Ten minutes of that, and another ten of chugging space-rock, lead eventually to a money shot in which the band hijack an arabesque melody and – gorgeously – ride it into orbit. That they follow it with a part that sounds like a pompous film soundtrack, and a couple of gratuitous false endings, is a source of no little frustration. Half an hour in, is it unreasonable to suggest the first song might have gone on slightly too long?

It sets a pattern for the rest of the show. Sections of blistering intensity lead nowhere, and exquisite melodies give way to long, treacherous quests for the fourth chord. Sometimes they’re tight as hell. Sometimes they struggle to stay in time. They’re like an eight-piece human aerial, tuning in and out of greatness.

This review originally appeared in Venue.

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