After (not) seeing Devin Townsend at Studio Seven, I knew that I couldn’t just listen to Gojira; I had to see the stage. I unloaded camera and coat on long-suffering spouse who camped against a pillar. It had been a long time since I worked my way through a crowd like that, so I was out of practice with the “This small girl pushing past you is so harmless you’ve already forgotten her,” mind trick. Plus, the Gojira fans were notably protective of their space. I made it as far as the next pillar before a group of very tall guys blocked my way. Currents of aggression swirled through the crowd.
When the music started, a shockwave pushed the crowd back from the stage like anime characters thrown from an explosion. (I love it when song names are meaningful.) As the crowd pulsed, I pressed forward with the crowd, held my ground when it pushed back. Eventually, I passed the breakers and found a clear view of bass player Jean-Michel Labadie. He was playing with the brightest, transcendent smile. Catching his joy, I had to laugh out loud when the press became so tight there wasn’t room to headbang.
The sightlines at Studio Seven suck, but the sound was really good, and Gojira live is as tight and precise as the album. Despite the angry persona Joe Duplantier assumes onstage, most of the aggression in the crowd had evaporated, replaced by mass euphoria. This was not the redneck crowd from Lamb of God anyway. These people smelled much better – fortunate, because the only time I’ve ever been packed tighter was the show Sausage played when three Navy ships were docked in Seattle.
Despite the general bonhomie, I was uncomfortably close to a guy who seemed to be at a different show from the rest of us, so I started sliding sideways through the crowd toward the center. One guy offered up a space in front of him. I squeezed in and found myself feet from Joe Duplantier, his arms spread wide as he announced the title track. The crowd surged back in, pressing my face into the shoulder blades of one of the largest men I’ve ever seen.
The next time I got a good look at the stage was one of those moments when a cliché becomes meaningful. Duplantier caresses the strings. His face is fierce but his hands are soft; they move smoothly along the neck of the guitar without ever lifting from the strings. The contrast between the image of his hands and the percussive sound would be worth the effort to get up close even if the pit wasn’t fun.
I was standing on the edge of the metal platform that holds the rail in place, with four or five people in front of me. I could only see the stage about half the time and I kept falling off the two inch tall platform. The giant in front of me lifted his arm, inviting me forward – it was like a gate opening and when I moved under, I found myself in a pen. His enormous arms encircled a herd of four women at the rail. It felt paternalistic, but I liked not falling off the platform, so I stayed there through Mario Duplantier’s extended drum solo. Eventually I tired of receiving a face full of hair from the woman in front of me (the smell of hair product in a mosh pit – how times have changed!) and moved to the side.
Now I could sometimes see Joe Duplantier to my left and Labadie, still smiling but now thrashing wildly, to my right. Once I looked up and thought, “Who’s that guy?” It was the first time I saw Christian Andrieu.
During my years away from metal I filled the heavy void with a lot of industrial music. Listening to Gojira, I always feel like they are a heavy metal band playing industrial music. The avoidance of melody, preference for pure, abrasive sound over musical notes, the mechanical cadence of industrial music are all there. But where bands like Ministry and Killing Joke use samples as an extra instrument to create this effect, and Einstürzende Neubauten use drills and anvils, Gojira stand on stage with traditional heavy metal instrumentation and accomplish the same thing.
After several “Thank you and goodnight, merci beaucoup,” the music really did stop. People started clearing out; just as I turned away, the band came out and started shaking hands with the front row. I turned back, and my pit-friend offered to lift me up. Clambering over shoulders, reaching out, oh so close… four pale-colored picks in Joe’s hand as he handed them to guys just in front of me. And then he was gone.
Comparing stories with my husband on the way out (it was like Airwaves where everyone asks, “How is your festival?”) we passed the Sea Shepherd table and, not for the first time that night, I thought of Guðmundur from Sólstafir. I was tempted to buy him a shirt.
The word count on this post belies my feeling of speechlessness after this show, but I’ve just been talking around the real story. I’ve forgotten the source, but in college my physics-major friends used to quote, “As soon as you put something in words, you’ve missed the point.”* The point (sorry) was that language is incapable of expressing certain fundamental facts of the universe. Words are a too-broad brush that can describe around the edges but never reach the heart of reality. They can only obscure the nature of light, for example, or the experience of hearing Gojira play their music live in a 700-person club in an industrial district two blocks from the sea.
*To which the response was always, “I think you’ve missed the point there.”
Note: If you want to read about this show in fewer words with more information about the music (plus better photos) check out Islander’s write-up over at No Clean Singing.