Godspeed You Black Emperor!: “World Police” (2000/11/20, Scala, London)

To date, the best concert I’ve ever seen was a December 1, 2000, show by Godspeed You Black Emperor! with Bonnie Prince Billie & the Marquis de Tren opening. The venue was the Somerville Theater on Davis Square in Somerville, Massachusetts, which was built in 1914 and bears the opulent detail designers and craftsmen poured into public buildings back then. 

The details were a little worn out by 2000, which made it a pretty perfect place to see this show. I remember this being one of the friendliest, and quietest, audiences I’ve ever been part of. Will Oldham and Jim White responded by playing the quietest opening set I’ve ever seen—White at one point played by hitting his own lap with brushes, and we could hear it in the balcony, which I suppose is also a measure of the venue’s great acoustics.

Godspeed played an amazing six-song set: “Moya,” “9-15-00,” “Gathering Storm,” “Dead Metheny,” “Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls,” and “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III,” with “Deadflagblues (outro)” as the encore. Thing is, as great as the other pieces of music they played were, nearly the whole show felt like a sort of recovery from the earth-rending version of “Moya” they opened with.

I’ve never seen an audience react so uniformly to a piece of music outside this show. Everyone in the theater inched toward the edge of their seat as the music built and grew in intensity, and when they hit the big release, every sat back at once. It was incredible. The air in that room felt supercharged, and when I looked around, I could make out tears streaming down people’s faces through the whole auditorium in the dim light of the band’s projections. 

I saw them again this summer, and they were just as good now as they were back then—I figured this was one band that would do it right if it ever got back together. They didn’t play “Moya,” but oh well—what they did play was outstanding. Their new record is great, too. I spent part of the middle of the week revisiting their whole catalog while I worked, and in some ways it was even better than I remembered.

This performance of “World Police” is from a show just before I saw them—they were breaking out pieces of the suites from Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven! and playing them on their own, and most of them stood quite well alone. It starts out almost hopelessly quiet, but give it a couple of minutes—the second half will take your breath away.