Godspeed You! Black Emperor / Marisa Anderson – Mcdonald Theatre, Eugene, OR

Words by Jesse Van Horn

Photography courtesy of Andrew Saputo — Instagram | Facebook

Marisa Anderson has patched jeans. This strikes me as an issue of practicality, rather than a fashionable affectation. She looks more like the grocer at my co-op than she does a rock star. But then she plays, and the hippie co-op image is replaced by that of a guerrilla activist, pleading for change the only way she knows how – with music. Her music is clearly political in nature – she discusses misogyny on stage, she labels Trump and Pence ‘horsemen of the apocalypse,’ and she has track titles like, “Children in Cages.” And through her music, through slow, finger-picked guitar, she tells these stories. There is an immediacy to her work. Her guitar does not weep for the children, it wails. The music alternates between borderline jangle pop and avant garde drone rock. But it feels precise, thoughtful, purposeful. She introduces the song “Resurrection” as being about the second law of thermodynamics, about how matter and energy cannot be destroyed. And before the song is finished, I get it. I can hear, beneath the layers of reverb, the timelessness, the unity, the indestructibility of matter. This song, I think, will never die. Its energy will just be changed, transformed. Perhaps it will be changed into mere noise, but perhaps among those enough who arrived early enough to catch the opener, it will trigger some sort of change. Perhaps.

Marisa Anderson (Photo by Andrew Saputo)

It is hard to say when Godspeed begins performing. The stage lights dim and the drone begins. A steady, pulsing, churning hum. So much of what I love about Godspeed is the sense of atmosphere. The Dead Flag Blues paints a dystopian portrait rivaling Cormac McCarthy. There is no one on stage, but I can already feel myself slipping into GY!BE’s anarchist mindset. And then my faux-philosophical reverie is interrupted by the laughter of a child. Someone brought a toddler to the show. I later find out this same person brought an infant, too, who slept on the floor through the two-hour performance. I guess Godspeed really means a lot to some people. 

Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Photo by Andrew Saputo)

Musicians gradually take the stage and add to the drone. The gradual building of arrhythmic noise gives me a sense of anxiety that I both love and hate. After nearly ten minutes of this I feel like I need some sort of release. I need cymbals to crash. I need distorted chords to strum. I need this chaos to break into a coherent time signature. But there is no break. There is no release. Just a gradual diminishing of intensity until I realize I’m no longer holding my breath, no longer clenching my teeth, waiting for the monster to appear from around the corner. This is why I came here. 

Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Photo by Andrew Saputo)

There are eight people on stage, but I can only see two faces. Most of the band sit facing each other in a semicircle. They don’t seem to care that we are here, that we adore them, that their music means something to us. It feels more like we are watching a group of self-conscious music students rehearsing for the first time than a structured performance. There are four reel-to-reel projectors at the back of the room, overlaying clips of old New York buried in snow, cemeteries, train lines, tanks, MAGA rallies, civil rights protests, tanks, fighter planes, pages and pages of handwritten notes. At a certain point, Carl, the projectionist, begins burning the film. There is clearly a message here, for those who are looking. 

Burned Film (Photo by Andrew Saputo)

Sixteen minutes into the first song is when we first experience what would conventionally be known as a song: predictable rhythm and melody. Something you could bob your head to. And somewhere during what I presume to be the third movement I realize that I have experienced eternity in a day. I have seen the birth and death of stars. I have watched the clouds go by and bleed into night. There is genius within this madness. 

Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Photo by Andrew Saputo)

After twenty-three minutes the song is over. We clap. The band does not speak to us. They begin again. The next song clocks in around 30 minutes. Thirty minutes of slowly increasing and decreasing tension. If music is just organized noise, Godspeed takes the idea to the literal extreme. There are moments of disorienting chaos, conjuring a dystopian sense of the futility of life. But occasionally you are caught off guard by what sounds like a chorus of angels, and you transcend. I am terrified. But I’m also entranced. I want to be a part of the noise. Even for a moment, to be a single note, in this tangled web of a chord that is Godspeed. 

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