LOS ANGELES — Protests don’t always come in the form of eye-catching soundbites. The anarchist post-rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor gave the Ace Hotel a panoramic view of a broken world and the urgent need to fix it.
At the start of the two-hour set, Carla Bozulich took the stage with only her bass and her voice. The band carried on its proclivity for improvisation and collaboration, allowing her mystical, powerful ambient piece to set the mood as the band made its way on stage to begin opener “Hope Drone.”
The song has appeared in many forms over the years, this time reaching beyond a drone piece in favor of a full-band experience, leading seamlessly into “Bosses Hang” off the band’s most recent album, Luciferian Towers. Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s intuitive chemistry drove the band to fill the meat of the track with impressionistic flourishes, though still locking back into a steady three-count groove. Formed in a semi-circle to better see and respond to each other, the band members seamlessly transitioned from one impenetrable soundscape to the next.
Though this set lacked fan-favorite “Mladic,” the band made up for it with two stunning collaborations with tenor saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi.
This set featured only seven songs, but lasted just under 120 minutes—meaning the performances of “Fam/Famine” and “Undoing a Luciferian Towers” achieved something entirely unique to the original recordings from Luciferian Towers.
The former’s elegiac motif and the latter’s harrowing modulations got supercharged by Shiroishi’s playing. From heartfelt melodies to scorched-earth shredding, he gave Godspeed You! Black Emperor the extra push it needed to create a once-in-a-lifetime dose of world-crushing sublimity.
Three guitarists, two bassists, two drummers and a violinist might seem like overkill, but each member proved vital to the massive aura. Each member seemed to function as one facet of a sentient organism. It often became impossible to pinpoint where one musician’s input ended and that of another began, as the songs’ monolithic progressions demanded every ounce of sonic weight each player could give.
The band made it very clear why two cinematographers remain a part of the team. Crafted uniquely for each show, the analogue projections used throughout the set proved extremely important to the impact of each song. “Undoing a Luciferian Towers” got the fitting accompaniment of demolition, but closing cut “BBF3” became all the more powerful due to news footage of protests and political violence.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor has never been shy about its political stance, and “BBF3” brought that to the forefront. The song’s leveling riffs were carried by the frenetic ramblings of a vox pop interviewee, as Trump-era violence played on the massive projector screen. The passionate slow-motion melodies and apocalyptic heaviness of that final cut may as well have been a bomb going off in the auditorium. When the band left its equipment on stage to repeat an enveloping loop, everyone simply sat—dazed by an onslaught of sound and light. The final fadeout truly felt like a release from the band’s fastened sensory hold.
Patrick Shiroishi started the evening with a peculiar, yet arresting saxophone performance. He approached his instrument in a way similar to the way Godspeed’s David Bryant, Efrim Manuel Menuck and Michael Moya approach the guitar. Using loop pedals and idiosyncratic sound effects, he created mind-altering ambiance to solo over.
His soundscapes became so hypnotic that his hard cut to skronky noise gave the room a collective jump-scare. His incorporation of an infrequently heard passage from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was as haunting as it was impactful. While it was a more bare-bones performance than the massive ensemble that followed, he effectively imparted both social relevance and emotional impact though his avant-garde expression.