Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Godspeed You Black Emperor Adelaide Festival 2016Adelaide Festival. Thebartone Theatre. 6 Mar 2016


Vampilla, support act to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, were getting in the mood as three members traipsed about the foyer of Thebarton Theatre in white modernist clothes embossed in black calligraphy, sporting a black flag with white calligraphy. An outrageously brilliant, overly long, horizontal black Elvis wig on one member was a costume highlight.


Japan’s self styled avant garde ‘brutal orchestra’ were ready to rip on their second visit to the Adelaide Festival of Arts.


Rip, roar, and tear the heart out of classical music with cartoon savvy punk style abandon they most certainly did and the audience lapped it up. Machine gun bursts of heady metal style rock, interspersed with gentle phrases of violin and piano and lung bursting hearty vocals roared through the venue.

If that wasn’t enough, playing the audience with music-box like phrases and encouraging hands in the air swaying, proved hugely successful as just one of many musical and theatrical antics employed by Vampilla to mash up the romantic bombast of opera with an anarchic spirit of rebellion.


For Vampilla, the classic, operatic style is anything they want it to be and no one’s allowed to argue the point, just get into the theatricality of it and enjoy.


Godspeed You! Black Emperor had a solid crowd eagerly awaiting them. The band hadn’t played live anywhere in the world since 2003, until they began doing so again in 2010.


The near two hour set, with accompanying split screen video projection, challenged the audience to allow the wave of sound to crash over and about them, yet pay close attention to the structure of linked visual and musical narrative. To elicit key moments, sound and vision coalesced in flashes of epiphany, encompassing a meditation of the battle to sustain nature and humanity.


Three grand phrases comprised the evening’s experience, each quite clearly and explicitly demarked.


Beginning with a soft rolling violin zither, and flickering out-of-focus projection which slowly became clearer and clearer sprang a paean of ‘hope’. Filled with soaring violin, sounding as if seeking places to rest, hurried on by growling undercurrents of percussive bass to vision of deserted towns, fields and graves. This descended into quiet, broken by solo guitar notes pulled in such a manner they sounded like heady drops of water, and indeed water was the visual theme to accompany the barrelling, grumbling roll of percussion and base guitar rising and falling in sharp cracking cantos of despair, with the equally sparse vision of rising birds amidst grey skies as flashes of buckshot flare.


This emotively discordant growl faded down, replaced by a series of sharp, deep, hard base drum beats leading into the darkest and lightest moments of the evening.

The base drum lead the phase for the early part, with rattling lead guitar and violin rustling swiftly beneath as the visual projection looked on nature in a darker, more deathly context.


Each beat, suggested death of black and white infrared deer. Each growl of ‘death’ gripping the audience until, in a subtle shift, came light leading into a thrilling pianissimo crisscrossing of violin and piano rising ever higher and higher. The sound peaking in a momentous, excited burst of light filled freedom and comprehension which placidly played on through, back to the violin zither which began the evening.


David O’Brien


When: 6 March

Where: Thebarton Theatre

Bookings: Closed