To be honest, I was a little apprehensive about going to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor (aside: I really hope that the next release sees them change their name to Godspeed! You! Black! Emperor!, just for old-time YS/AP hilarity); their image suggests that they live together in a long-abandoned railway shack on the outskirts of Montreal preparing for the oncoming apocalypse. I was concerned whether seeing them live would break some of the mystery behind their music. Silly, I know.
It took them over half-an-hour to set up. There's nine members (five! guitarists!); everybody has a ridiculous amount of effects pedals (okay, so Norsola only had three — but when was the last time you saw a cellist use an effects pedal? Eh? Eh?) that need to be checked in a certain order, two drum kits need to be miked up, there's a glockenspiel to sort out, and so on. Eventually, they finish this labourious task, and begin the performance.
At this point, I realise that it might not have been such a good idea to be right at the front (and I mean right at the front; an outstretched arm would have have touched one of the guitarist's chairs). GY!BE are loud. Very loud. And I'm standing right next to one of the main speakers. For two hours, I feel every low-frequency note played on the stage. However, any worries I have about not being able to hear for the next week are far outweighed about two minutes after the band start playing.
As I'm standing straight in front of her, I spend most of the concert watching Norsola, the cellist. I was interested in her bow technique. Honest. And her inventive use of the cello as a percussion instrument at the start of 'Moya'. Or when she broke her bow towards the end of the same song; she calmly put it back in her bag, walked over the to the side of the stage, took another one out of the equipment boxes, and went back to playing. Very very fast...
I wish I could give you a set list; I remember that they played most of f#a#∞, all of Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada, and at least the first three tracks from Levez Vous Skinny Fists Comme Antennas To Heaven!. I don't think they played anything from Yanqui U.X.O. (strange, as it's their current album UPDATE: I'm an idiot. They definitely played "09-15-00" at least. UPDATE 2: And "Rockets Fall On Rockets Fall". I told you I was bad at set lists). However, it's mostly a blur of beautiful and mesmerising music, the soundtrack from the day after WWIII; filled partly with despair, destruction, and isolation; but mostly brimming with hope. They had a white sheet in the corner of the stage upon which they projected short films: images of deserted cities, burning oil fields, collapsing chimneys; alongside sunrises, country journeys and the hand-scratched title of "Hope". 'BBF3' is accompanied by footage of recent protest marches, and the song gets a laugh from the audience as the Minidisc-provided voice of Blaise Bailey refuses to speculate about the year 2003, as he "doesn't have a mind that inhumane".
After two hours, the concert ends, and the group disappears for the pre-encore break. When they come back, they play 'Moya', and then one of the group actually gets a microphone. He (I think it was Aidan, but I'm not exactly sure) says that the next song will be their last, but that some local people had spoken to them, and they'd be meeting in the car park shortly afterwards for a parade. Everybody was invited to join them.
When the lights finally come up, people file out to the car park. There had obviously been a little planning involved (although not much; I spoke to Matt, a sound engineer at the club whom I know from my course, and he said they came up with the idea about an hour before the band went on stage); people were being given paint-tin drum and rice shakers to make as much noise as possible.
And then we marched to Chapel Hill.
It took five minutes for the first police car to turn up. Thankfully, They decided not to arrest us all for disturbing the peace; instead, they held back traffic while we walked down the main street back to the town, and blocked us off at the end of Franklin Street so the crowd couldn't advance further than the courthouse. I quietly slipped away from the crowd at 1am, because I had to see Sona about getting a lift back from Durham train station next Sunday.
They weren't hooded hermits from a deserted shack in Canada. But they were still fantastic.
Next concert: Idlewild, this Sunday. By which time, I presume my ears will have stopped ringing...
I'm coming back home in May.
It's a hard thing to finally say. It was always a childhood dream of mine to live in America. I'm here. After all this time, I'm really here. So why am I giving it all up and going back to the UK?
Maybe I went to the wrong college. I came to Chapel Hill mainly for the location and for financial reasons, rather than being enticed by the department's research interests. But I don't think this is the real reason. I'm no longer that interested in computer science; I don't want to be a programmer. Or a research scientist. I love it here, and I would stay if I could, but I can't leave the department and stay, unfortunately. I don't fancy the idea of living in America without a valid visa at the moment.
So I'm coming home.
What will I do? That's a good question. Having achieved one of my childhood dreams, maybe it's time to work on another. I going to try writing. Time to jump off a new cliff...
That new Blur single is currently burrowing into my mind; I found myself humming it several times today. Still not entirely convinced by the rest of the album yet, but again I imagine it'll grow on me. Over in the 'instant crush' category, Black Box Recorder's 'Andrew Ridgely' is the best thing I've heard all year.
Finished all the marking last night, and so spent most of the day wandering around again. Two differences from Sunday: I managed to write seven pages of comic script, and this time I got lost in a residential area instead of woodland. It was like something from To Kill A Mockingbird — straight rows of wood-panelled houses. Very pretty, but I didn't bring my camera, so you'll just have to take my word for it. You can trust me. Even if I do harbour a secret collection of Cathy Dennis records. Curses.
And I didn't get any pancakes. *sniff*
A further example of why I could never be a music critic: the new Blur album is rather pleasant. Nothing that you'd call outstanding or surprising, but listenable enough. On the other hand, my heart has already been won by the new Black Box Recorder album, and I've only heard the first track so far. I promise I will buy both eventually, but for the moment they'll be accompanying me on my trip to Washington via illicit CD-Rs.
According to a sign I saw in the town today, there's another Washington D.C. protest planned for March 15th. Which is my last full day there. That's going to be interesting, to say the least. RIOT IN DC!
I think everyone got their signal-reading abilities mixed up last Saturday, somehow...
Instead, I decided to walk through various miles of woodland, cross streams and interstates (I'm getting worryingly good at the latter, by the way), getting lost only to clamber out of the trees to find myself looking at University Mall. Have a look at some pictures:
Having walked several miles out of Chapel Hill, I remembered that I hadn't had anything to eat since last night, and that I was actually quite hungry. I was by now about two miles away from the centre of the town, but I was sure that if I kept walking in one direction I'd find something. Eventually I found a barbeque restaurant, and by this time I was hungry enough not to care about sitting alone in a sit-down establishment. Things I learnt whilst eating there:
A long walk back follows, and what originally was meant to be a two-hour walk ends up being five. Mind you, it was a very nice day...
This new Blur song is quite, well, nice, isn't it?
I decided to go visit the mall today, mainly to buy a guide to Washington D.C. So far, the Lonely Planet guide has saved me $15/night by giving details of a cheaper hotel which is a bit closer to the centre of the city than the one in which I was originally planning to stay. Hurrah! Not entirely sure as to whether the site will be updated while I'm away; there appears to be a few cyber-cafés dotted around, so I may be able to post from there. Oooh. Free wireless access? I wasn't entirely convinced that I should take the iBook with me, but that's tempting.
One hour and thirty minutes to go.