Music

Save the Whales: Gojira at Upstate Concert Hall

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Save the Whales: Gojira at Upstate Concert Hall

Photo by Kiki Vassilakis

I believe it was kindergarten where I learned about the plight of the whales and was taught the Raffi song “Baby Beluga.” I recall sitting cross legged and listening to whale songs and being told just how little we knew about these sea creatures. I remember feeling outrage about how they had been hunted; fear at the size of whales and deep melancholy that there was little I could do to save them. It’s odd that the next time I encountered those same feelings was on a metal record. On Thursday, Gojira, a metal band made up of environmentalists from Bayonne, France, brought their whale song to Upstate Concert Hall. It’s been a little over 10 years since the release of the album that earned them international notoriety–From Mars to Sirius a concept album about whales that eventually fly away from the earth that has forsaken them. That album combined some of the heaviest riffing of the time and guitar acrobatics with a very straightforward metal skeleton. Since then, brothers Joe Duplantier (vocals, guitar) and Mario Duplantier (drums) have distilled their formula–incorporating more atmosphere and capitalizing on Mario’s stunning jazz-influenced drumming. Their latest release Magma is their most accessible album to date and finds the group continuing to struggle with the restrictions they face as a “metal band.” That tension was something that Joe made very apparent throughout the concert. He noted he didn’t really like singing, that metal fans were sort of dumb, he begged the crowd to stop videoing the performance with their cell phones and live in the moment “Like it’s the ‘80s or something.”

Joe may have played up his discomfort and internal conflict but none of it leaked into the band’s performance. They tore through numbers off of From Mars to Sirius and Magma early in the set. “Heaviest Matter in the Universe” lived up to the billing with Joe dive bombing over Mario’s polyrhythmic pounding. The songs from Mars to Sirius felt inspired by classical compositions—bold and Wagnerian. “Flying Whales,” and “Backbone” sent the audience into a frenzy–bodies floated over the crowd like flying cars in Blade Runner–steady rush hour traffic. Songs from Magma had a more classical-rock bent. “Silvera” and “The Cell” built towards fan-friendly choruses but got there with neo-trash riffing and baffling rhythms. “Stranded,” another cut from Magma sounded like a thrash cassette tape played backward–Joe twitching out a stuttered riff as Mario delivered an uncharacteristic basic metal drum line. It’s the relationship between the pair makes Gojira so special. The pair trade the spotlight, then suddenly combine their rhythm to one end.

Sweat-drenched and puffing for air crowd members pumped their fists and called out requests. Joe apologized from time to time that they hadn’t rehearsed one song or another and teased the crowd with an opening riff. The second half of the show took on a stark, morose tone as the band pulled heavily from The Way of All Flesh and L’Enfant Sauvage. Joe wiped the sweat out of his eyes and pushed back his long hair, breaking to explain how he had become lead singer because no one else in the band wanted to. Mario left his drum throne and roadies strapped a guitar over his torso that was coated in sweat and kinesio-tape. Mario taunted the crowd–a little more aggressive than his brother had been. Joe got behind the drum kit. Mario growled out a tune, ripping notes from his guitar. Joe drummed along more than competently. They exchanged smiles and returned to their regular positions. On “Vacuity” the pair played lockstep, Joe looking possessed, “The sickness of this world is destroying all the dreams/ The fools are kings, tearing apart the soul.” he screamed. Shots of smoke shot out from the stage across the audience. Lasers spewed into the ceiling. It made it all the more a “metal” show. It wasn’t necessary. The brothers could have been playing a barn and their passion would have been enough to unite the crowd. The band left the stage, with shouts of “GOJIRA!” finally drawing them back. They played a generous encore and then again returned to chants to simply greet and thank the crowd. This is a band that could easily hide its humanity and self-doubt behind walls of competence, bravado and posturing–instead they continually push for more. Unsatisfied, unrelenting and frankly on Thursday night unbelievably perfect.

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