I Saw Them Live!

I Saw Them Live! Memories From a Godspeed You! Black Emperor Show

With the release next week of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s new album Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (which is now available to stream), this is the perfect opportunity to reflect on one of the most remarkable concerts I have ever experienced.  Seeing Godspeed live was such a mind-blowing event that I spent weeks after the show contemplating the fundamental nature of music.  When a band forces you to engage in philosophical debates with yourself, it means that it was a pretty special performance.

For years, I was only a moderate fan of Godspeed You! Black Emperor; I was intrigued by the unusual name (including the shift in the exclamation point over the years) and the odd facts I had read about the group, from the fact that they were some sort of amorphous collective that conducted “post-rock” songs to the claim that the band trafficked in extreme politics despite the fact that their songs were strictly instrumental.  I picked up a few of their records in college and was often content to leave them playing as ambient drone music during study periods, rarely fully engaging myself with the individual songs.  It was pleasant background music, but I often struggled to maintain any focus on the individual songs during my attempts to listen with greater intent.

The band had fallen off my radar when they went through their lengthy post-Yanqui U.X.O. hiatus, but when they announced they were reuniting to go on tour in 2011, I immediately decided to snatch up a ticket.  I had heard excellent reports about their live show, and the fact they were playing an unusual venue (a Masonic Temple in Brooklyn, I believe) indicated that it would be a memorable experience.  However, my excitement was short-lived, as circumstances changed and I ended up missing the concert–I attended South by Southwest instead, the thought being that the thirty shows that I would end up seeing would make up for the one that I had missed.

Soon after the initial success of the reunion tour, the band released the fantastic comeback album ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!  Unlike previous albums, I had a much more instantaneous appreciation of ‘Allelujah, and it made me reconsider my assessment of the band.  The band announced a tour in support of the album, and I finally had the chance to atone for my previous absence.  GY!BE swung their way through Portland’s own version of SXSW, performing at the Roseland Theater for two nights during MusicFestNW.  Back in 2013, the “festival” was still a week-long affair of loosely-affiliated shows at venues all across the city, and because of the necessity of tickets for each show and the vast distances between them, it was a significant decision to choose a specific show like this because of the additional opportunity cost.  The stakes were high.

Initially, it seemed that I had made an unwise gamble with my time and money.  The band took its time getting to the stage, arriving one at a time, and once they were there spent several minutes seemingly attempting to get in tune, creating a cacophonous drone that gradually enveloped the theater.  For a good ten minutes I was having serious doubts about whether or not it was a good idea to see a band for whom I had previously only mild feelings, knowing full well that the live experience could very well end up being a compilation of the most boring aspects of the band.  Then, there was a sudden shift, and the music coalesced into something that can only be described as pure beauty.

“Mladic” may be the closest that Godspeed has ever come to writing a “hook”, with a melody that evokes Slavic motifs that bring to mind my own Mediterranean roots.  With this melody stuck in my head, I now had a toehold within the morass from which I could explore wherever the band ventured.   In other words, there was now a purpose in the noise.  Once I had this realization, I began to analyze the sounds circling around venue, and began questioning my assumptions as to what constituted “rock” and what defined “music” itself.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor has often been described as a “post-rock” band, a term with little meaning to most people, but it was at that moment that it seemed that the band had embodied the meaning of the signifier; it seemed as if the band was commenting on the nature of the form, a hallmark of “postmodernist” movements.  Godspeed eschews the verse-chorus formulation, but simulates their effect by playing with dynamics, utilizing huge crescendos that build over several minutes and sudden diminuendos.  The band also explores dissonant tones and plays around with pure cacophony, with several members playing extremely disparate parts that seemingly have no relation, but will gradually blend into recognizable melodies.  The result is music that creates the effect of a rock show, without including many of the more recognizable elements that one would expect from “rock”.

By the end of the show, as the band exited in a similar manner as they had entered, screen flickering all the while, I had a completely different opinion of the band.  Now I can’t wait to see them again.

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I Saw Them Live! Memories From a Show with The Hives

Portland music fans come in all shapes and sizes, but the one thing that unites them is their enthusiasm.  They may not know how to dance, and they may not know all the words to a song, but dammit they’ll clap and yell like hell to show their appreciation.   Usually when a band like The Flaming Lips tells a Portland audience at this crowd is “the loudest they’ve ever heard,” the assumption is that they’re being polite; however, considering the sheer number of bands who as they pass through the Pacific Northwest take the time remark about the intensity of the crowds, the evidence indicates that this is a genuine fact.* But sometimes the Portland crowd’s passion gets the best of them.

Though The Hives have faded a bit from the mainstream, they still remain one of the best live shows that you can go see.  Singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist always is a delight with his theatrics and stage mannerisms, and drummer Chris Dangerous is worth the price of admission alone as he flies through each song at warp speed while at the same time keeping perfect time.  A couple of years back, due to a scheduling snafu, we had tickets for two concerts at the same time, and as a result we had to race across town and were able to catch only the last ten minutes of The Hives’s set.  But even though we only heard the last three songs, we still came out feeling pumped and eager to share the fun that we had, including the fact that Pelle had the audience on the floor at one point.

My favorite memory of The Hives is from a show they performed back in 2008 at the Roseland Theater, in support of The Black and White Album.  Even though there was an extra-long delay between the opener and the main act, the band was quickly able to win over the crowd with their infectious energy and an absolutely blistering performance, as they tore into all their hits from Tyrannosaurus Hives and Veni Vedi Vicious.  At one point in the show, Pelle climbed up a giant stack of amplifiers and into the Roseland’s balcony to sing one of their songs, a feat that I haven’t seen replicated since.  Each member got their time to shine, and the crowd ate it up.

As expected, the band left their mega-hit “Hate To Say I Told You So” for the encore, and when Nikolaus Arson launched into that memorable riff, the crowd lost their minds.  Everything was fine until the band hit the breakdown, when Dr. Matt Destruction received his moment in the spotlight as he played the riff on his bass.  There he was, motoring along, and the crowd was clapping right there with him, except…the audience was seriously dragging behind the beat and everything sounded like ass.  Dr. Matt Destruction, being the professional that he is, didn’t miss a beat and kept chugging along.  Meanwhile, Pelle heard the carnage that was taking place, and his face clearly indicated that he felt shocked and appalled at what he was witnessing.  He looked to the crowd, and asked the immortal question in his best Swedish-accented English:

“Port Land…Where’s your rhythm?!!??!”**

Pelle then proceeded to clap, and set the beat for us, and eventually order was restored.  I will never forget that moment, though I get constant reminders whenever I go to a show and I see Portland’s “rhythm” in action.  And thus, I can say that this Treme clip is just about the most accurate comment about Portland ever seen on television.

*Makes those “records” that you see for loudest crowd at Autzen Stadium in Eugene and CenturyLink Field in Seattle seem a bit more accurate, and not just the result of fancy acoustics.  Also, having seen shows on both coasts, I can speak to the volume of Portland crowds personally, for what it’s worth.

**Note: the emphasis on each syllable of ‘Portland’ is something that Pelle did throughout the night, and is an accurate transcription.

I Saw Them Live! Memories From a Foo Fighters Show

With the release of their eighth studio album Sonic Highways this week, Rust Is Just Right is celebrating with a week devoted to the Foo Fighters.  Today, we reminisce about a favorite concert memory from a Foo Fighters show.

I’ve seen the Foo Fighters live a couple of times over the years, and each time they put on a great show.  I have to give a lot of credit to a band that’s willing to make a stop in Salem instead of skipping over it just to play Portland, even if it means that they have to perform in the footlocker known as the Armory.  That show in particular will always have a special place in my memory as it was the day after my friends and I graduated from high school, and we had one last party together before breaking off for the summer and going our separate ways to different colleges.

But it’s a different concert that’s the focus of our new feature, one the Foos played a couple of years later up in Portland.  Before the show, I had read an interview that Dave Grohl did for Rolling Stone magazine, and he had mentioned that one of the things that he was most appreciative of after ten years of touring with the Foo Fighters was the fact that people in the crowd had stopped throwing Mentos at the band.  If you are unaware of the reason why this was a common occurrence, then you need to take two minutes and watch the video for “Big Me”, helpfully embedded above.  It is well worth your time.  Of course, being the young knuckleheads that we were, my friends and I decided to take this as a challenge, and made sure to purchase rolls of Mentos before the show.  Was it to prove that we were true fans, dating back to the earliest days of the group, or was it just because we were assholes?  The truth, as always, lay somewhere in between.

Our initial plan was to of course wait to see if on the off chance the band decided to play “Big Me”, then we would unleash hell and launch our supply of Mentos at the band.  As the set went on, we were pleased to enjoy a number of the Foos’ greatest hits as well as their hilarious stage banter, but we soon began to get antsy about releasing our payload.  The band was reaching the end of its set, and the three of us reached a consensus that we would start tossing Mentos if the band played anything off their debut album.  The problem was that at this point there were far too many songs off their subsequent releases that required their attention, so there was no guarantee that we would have our opportunity.  The Foos reached their encore, and we weren’t sure how much longer the show would go on, so we decided to start our assault during “Breakout”.

I began tossing individual Mentos as soon as the song started, as did one of my other friends.  Unfortunately, we were just a bit too far away from the stage (we did not have any interest in engaging in any sorts of mosh-pit behavior, so we kept our distance), and our volleys were not reaching the stage.  Nonetheless, we kept picking our spots and tossing candies when an opening developed.  However, one of our friends kept waiting for an opportunity before deciding to strike.  Now, I should tell you that this friend will soon be referred to as “Dr.” due to his eventual completion of his Ph.D. in Physics, so he had a better plan of attack than us.  While my friend and I were encountering the problem of wind resistance as tossed individual candies at the band, our friend quickly solved the problem by refusing to toss individual candies, but instead giving a heave of the entire stick of Mentos at once.

My friend, despite possessing only a small percentage of the average arm strength of an adult male, managed to hit Dave Grohl in the shoulder with his stick of Mentos.

Dave of course was surprised at being hit by the unknown object, and mouthed the words “What the fuck?” as he looked around the stage to see what had struck him.  It took him a second, but he identified the object, and gave a quick chuckle as he continued playing the guitar.  He then reached down, picked up the stick of Mentos and…proceeded to use it as a slide during the bridge of “Breakout”.

It was an unbelievable combination of coincidences, but our juvenile escapades resulted in a truly unforgettable concert moment.  The rest of the audience probably had no idea exactly what it was that Dave Grohl had in his hand that he was using to run up and down the neck of his guitar, but the three of us certainly did.  It could not have gone better if we had planned it.

The Foo Fighters then finished the set with “Monkey Wrench” and it was awesome.