REVIEW: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Sage Gateshead

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
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Chances to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor don’t come around often - so imagine the consternation when their first visit to the North East in 13 years was interrupted by a fire alarm.

The disturbance came around 75 minutes into the post-rock titans’ monumental Saturday night set at The Sage Gateshead, but perhaps unsurprisingly the initial reaction in Hall 1 was not one of dismay, but rather confusion.

Onstage, the eight-piece Canadian outfit took an eternity to halt, so complete was their concentration.

And among the audience the feeling was even more acute, with many interpreting the automated evacuation message as a new song with a typically offbeat voice sample.

Once the hall began to empty, however, emotions teetered between grief and bemusement at the adjourning of such an eagerly-anticipated show, as the 75 or so preceding minutes had been utterly sensational.

Suspended in full flow, the reclusive outfit were in a state of constant build, seamlessly upping the ante and elevating intensity with each fresh turn.

Comprised of three guitars, bass, cello, violin and dual percussion, their onstage synergy was almost as captivating as the music itself, each disparate element coalescing into dense, awe-inspiring mountains of sound.

Creating such an awesome celestial racket onstage is no mean feat, and indeed the setup was almost akin to band practice, with all eight members facing one another in a circle, backs to the crowd and all.

The production too was anything but conventional. There were projected visuals, but nothing resembling a light show – just a dim red glow, if only so the musicians could actually see what they were doing.

Bold, challenging and at times overwhelming, it was a performance which was living up to everyone’s expectations.

Then came the alarm. Up came the lights, off went the band, and out we all trudged into the chilly autumnal night.

It was only while awaiting further instruction that it dawned how lucky we’d actually been; had the disruption sounded a minute earlier, it would've botched the thundering crescendo of P*** Crowns Are Trebled, an astonishing peak they’d spent a good 12 minutes - if not the entire evening - building towards.

As it was, the show resumed as it had ended on the low-key transition into fan favourite Moya (not, as some optimists had clamoured, from scratch!); the first of three further pieces totalling around 40 minutes.

And any lost momentum was swiftly rekindled, not least on BBF3, a sweeping early masterwork which drew proceedings to an inevitably epic close.

It was an event that’d been highlighted in fans’ calendars for months, but in more ways than one the night itself proved more extraordinary, unpredictable and drawn-out than anyone could have predicted.