The pairing of Canadian headline act, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, with Japan’s Vampilla for the Adelaide Festival performance at Thebarton Theatre on Sunday night made for some interesting comparisons. Both acts use volume to create a strange, visceral energy in performance and both fuse musical styles in bold experimental fashion. But in the nature of their performances, the two acts couldn’t be more different.
Vampilla opened the night with a high energy set, characterised by shirts off bravado and a strong connection with the crowd. You couldn’t help but feel involved: at one stage the singer even mounted a ladder in the middle of the audience to perform.
By contrast, the main act played on a dimly lit stage, often hunched over their instruments and eschewing audience engagement. In fact, the crowd need not have even been there at all. But this was never going to be a conventional gig, with the show’s merit resting entirely on the music, which was only adorned by haunting projections floating behind the musicians.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor have garnered a cult following with their commitment to cultivating a sonic landscape that is both beautiful and terrifying. In live performance they execute this with consummate skill, often at breathtaking volume. It is certainly something to experience.
There are moments of sheer inspiration where you feel some primordial connection to these sounds, but the absence of melody or conventional musical structure also means that it’s hard to stay engaged for the duration and, despite the volume being pumped out, the mind can wander off. Which, however puzzling, may indeed be the whole point of the performance.
By Matthew Trainor