Godspeed You! Black Emperor stupefies at Levitation 2022 with virtuosic instrumentation and ethereal atmosphere


Assad Malik

The band Godspeed You! Black Emperor performs at Levitation on Oct. 28, 2022.

Chandler Rowley, General Life and Arts Reporter

The lonesome disco ball hanging in the center of Empire Control Room & Garage’s pit area reflected specks of light on an assortment of costumed concertgoers. Festival attendees sporting costumes such as Richie Tenenbaum of “The Royal Tenenbaums,” characters from “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson” and Mugatu from “Zoolander” all stood in watchful anticipation of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Since the 2000 release of their critically acclaimed album, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, the Canadian post-rock band garnered a cult following for their expansive instrumentation. The ever-elusive group is currently touring in support of their 2021 album, G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! — their first time on the road since 2019

The audience gave an enthusiastic roar of approval as string instrument specialists Thierry Amar and Sophie Trudeau made their way to the right side of the stage. Amar and Trudeau laid the calculated drones as the foundation for the aptly titled track, “Hope Drone.” As more of Godspeed joined the strings, a crescendo of initially dissonant notes took form through their collective instrumentation, enveloping the entirety of the audience in their sonic grasp. 

Since releasing their debut album 25 years ago, Godspeed continues to demonstrate an aversion to shorter songs, with a setlist of just six tracks spanning an hour and twenty minutes. Where other groups meander and improvise their way through 10-plus minute tracks, Godspeed layered their performances with musical motifs and progressions that kept audiences engaged until the final notes fade away. The layering of Efrim Menuck’s clean-tone guitar and the understated arpeggios of the string section created a hopeful yet eerie sonic experience that took hold of their audiences. 

Godspeed imbued their performance with environmentalist themes through the use of 16 mm film projectors. Images of lifeless, industrial skylines with plumes of smoke served as the band’s backdrop during the track “First of the Last Glaciers.” Wheat thrashers tearing up idyllic fields and barren trees accompanied some of the moodier movements during their performance. 

Godspeed You! Black Emperor remains one of the most influential post-rock bands with their soaring instrumentation and cohesion as individual artists. Their performance at Levitation displayed the group’s musical virtuosity and proved that instrumentation can often be more powerful than words.