“We’re the only ones not wearing black.”
My associate tends toward hyperbole. But, hell, if any event lends itself more readily – God’s Pee in concert it is. The single-file congregation outside San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall did seem like it had conspired to attire itself exclusively in black. My associate and I had missed the memo, began to feel a smidgen out of place – me with stone-colored imported chinos, she in a beige, belted trench. No, we were a downright spectacle. Forgive us our trespasses.
We awaited admittance and hoped we wouldn’t be turned away for failing to dress for the occasion. Attempting to draw attention away from myself, my eyes caught another spectacle just a few doors down from the Hall. The fabled O’Farrell Theatre, strongly tied to the late, great Hunter S. Thompson, advertised on its marquee that there was “Where the Wild Girls Are.” To the dismay of my associate, the tagline was so clever that the compulsion to inquire within came upon me. Luckily for her, the marquee right above our heads averted the potential travesty with a promise infinitely more captivating than any “wild girl” could ever hope to be:
GODSPEED YOU! BLACK
APR 16 – APR 20
Three months prior, by the grace of my associate’s bank account, we had been accepted to attend the Tuesday, April 17 chapter of the week-long chronicle. The ticket I held in my hand had no compunction about letting me know just how fortunate I was to be there on “SOLD OUT! TUE APR 17 2012. ” Even back on January 18th when I informed my associate “we have to go see God’s Pee,” the preferred date of FRI APR 20 had already capitulated. Whether by consequence of being a Friday or Hitler’s birthday or something else, I’ll never know. Post-rock fans are enigmas. Hence all the black, I suppose.
And Enigma is exactly what Godspeed aim for. I think. Fuck it, what do I know? I had only recently learned to walk on my own when this infamous phalanx of musicians decided to collude in 1994. It’s impossible for me to say what Godspeed wants, if anything at all. In all likelihood, Godspeed’s primary motivation is not the creation of music, of art. If Walter Benjamin has taught me anything, politics are at work here. An ulterior motive must have guided GY!BE’s decision to play a week straight in San Francisco, of all places.
Uncovering this secret was imperative.
Five minutes passed in line before we were beckoned to present ourselves before the staff of the hallowed Hall. My associate’s purse was scanned, I assume to prevent the smuggling of any outside music or obnoxious recording equipment of any kind. The rites of initiation continued as we entered the Hall. It was time for the Eucharist. I was told to hold both wrists out – was stamped on both with nebulous black smudges for having the gall to be under the drinking age (my associate was stamped on one wrist with a “SMILE”) – was told not to dare leave the premises for fear I might offend the artists or otherwise upset the Hall’s delicate balance of energy – was told to insert the blue ticket before the white ticket when leaving the parking garage.
I took it all in stride. I’d had just about enough of claustrophobic punk rock shows in Berkeley, where any [refined gentleman] could saunter in and thrash about, all the while chugging on a bottle of Robitussin and shouting expletives. This time around, I didn’t want a rapport with the band – didn’t want to get their sweat on me. This time around, I had gone solely – so I thought – to appreciate. My Deadhead philosophy professor would be rolling in his grave if he were (literally) dead: Appreciation is worthless, engage the artwork actively!
The Hall was unimpressive even to my unseasoned eyes. In their near-two decades of touring, Godspeed might rank this among the “cozier” venues. Still, there was a mezzanine, a stage, a balcony, a restroom – maybe even two. Tables were set up, food and drink being served by lovely waitresses (also black-clad). Perhaps the standard concert fare, but for someone as well acquainted with basement gigs as I – let’s just say these were lavish amenities.
A bar inaccessible to me tempted my associate; a merch section right across the room demanded my cash. I was in line to purchase my favorite LP (Yanqui U.X.O. – fuck the haters) and a rather recondite T-shirt, when an urgent issue made itself known. It was difficult to be sure through the dimly-lit distance, but it seemed the black-clad Godspeedian catechumen were already filling up the front row. I was dumbstruck: we’d arrived just minutes after seven, and there was still an hour between us and the opening band, Pierced Arrows. Nevertheless, for the purposes of my investigation into God’s Pee’s guile, my vision could not spare any obstruction. A severely myopic individual, my associate shared my consternation and made it vocal. We dropped everything and riverran to the front row, only finding enough space for our pair of lean bodies to the immediate left of a six-foot speaker/sub tower on the northwest end of the stage.
Our ears would find no mercy there.
[Part 2 forthcoming.]