I recently told a story to a new circle of friends about my first exposure to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, how I came to love that band and how this eventually led to a bizarre trip to Athens, Georgia. I've been urged by them to retell the story in greater detail, so it gives me the perfect excuse to be more active on this page.
The first part of the story, which I wrote here a couple of days ago, deals with the details of the very first time I ever heard GY!BE, which was when I blindly went to see them perform on my 28th birthday.
The second part of the story involves an internet romance, an epic ice storm, a massive power outage and my second and only other time seeing them perform. Again, it isn't the concert, but rather the events surrounding it that make the story worth telling. The date of the show was March 8, 2003, but there's quite a bit of backstory that has to be told, so I have to go back about a year.
In the spring of 2002, I decided to give internet dating a try, and I had a couple of first dates this way, but nothing special. Sometime in the summer of that year, a girl named Jessica initiated contact with me through the dating service. She was from Alabama, and I didn't think anything other than a friendship would come out of that. Over the next several weeks, we exchanged a lot of emails and phone calls, and it was pretty cool. Again, I didn't really think that anything was going on, but she suggested that we meet in person. She pointed out that it was, after all, a dating site that brought us together and we should treat it as such. We knew that we had very similar taste in music, and the best way would be to get together for a concert experience.
We finally decided that Jessica was going to drive up here in early December and we would hang out for a week, during which we would go to an Aimee Mann concert in Durham on December 4. This was not, incidentally, the first time in my life that I'd convinced a young woman who I'd never met in person to travel a great distance to spend a week with me. But that's another story.
She arrived here on Tuesday the 3rd and was going to stay until the 11th. Being the gentleman that I sometimes am, I offered her my bedroom while I slept on the couch. For the first night anyway. I had to work the next day, and she slept for most of the day. We were supposed to go to the Aimee Mann show, but a snow and ice storm moved in pretty quickly and made travel impossible. If I remember correctly, the interstate highways were shut down due to significant icing. About three inches of snow fell and was topped by almost an inch of ice. We didn't go to the show, and as it turned out, they didn't offer refunds. We ended up getting a ride from my place to my friend Kari's, where we all played board games, ate dinner and had drinks until the wee hours.
Overnight Wednesday, as the accumulated ice caused tree limbs and power lines to fall, over a million North Carolnians lost power. I was one of the hardest hit. Although I have a gas furnace, it needs electricity to pump the heat, and that wasn't happening. My water, but not my stove, is gas-powered, so we were able to have hot showers and that's about it. The road conditions improved rapidly, and we were able to get around on Thursday, but my electricity wouldn't be restored for ten days. That's what I mean when I say that I was one of the hardest hit. It reminded me of Hurricane Hugo in September of 1989, when my family was without electricity for 14 days. There's a big difference, though in being without power when it's 60 degrees outside and when it's 15 degrees.
On Thursday, we stayed at another friend's place so we could be warm, but we decided that we needed some ...um.. privacy, so we moved out in the morning. Every hotel room in town was booked, so we had no choice but to go back to my place. I had to go to work, and I'm not sure what Jessica did during the day, but we went to a Hurricanes game (a 2-0 shutout loss at the hands of Roberto Luongo and the Florida Panthers) that night, then came back to my icy apartment.
Saturday, by my memory, was a warmer day and again, the conditions improved. This gave false hope that power would be restored, but it wasn't. We went to a movie that afternoon. She was an artist and wanted to see the Frida Kahlo biopic, so that was it. After that, a bunch of driving around. As luck had it, Matt Pond, PA was playing a in-store show here in Greensboro, so we went to that, then out for a few drinks, then back to my arctic apartment.
In the morning, Jessica feigned some family emergency and said that she had to cut her visit four days short. I knew that the real reason was that it was just too damned cold in my icebox, but there's nothing I could do about that. I felt awful that this was supposed to be a week of romance and good times, but the ice storm and the power outage weren't things that I could do anything about. I sort of assumed that we would never see each other again. We got along fairly well and there were some minor sparks, but with all the other factors, it was kind of a disaster.
We continued our telephone and email relationship and at some point, there was some talk of her moving here to go to graduate school in Greensboro. Once she started talking about that, I started to think about our "relationship" as something a little more serious.
And now, we're finally to "the story". Jessica and I planned to have another "date" at a neutral site. We decided to go to see GY!BE play at the 40 Watt club in Athens, Georgia. This meant a five-hour drive for me and about a two-hour drive for her. Not knowing the town of Athens at all, I bought the tickets to the show and booked a hotel room at a brand-name hotel that was pretty close to the club. As it turned out, the hotel was about two blocks away from the club and was probably the worst hotel in the national chain. It was the kind of "hotel" where people live. The kind of place where you have to check on your car about once every 15 minutes. The type of place where the pizza guy won't deliver after the sun goes down. I couldn't have known this when I booked the room. I simply trusted the name brand, even if the brand wasn't top-tier. I knew not to expect something like the Westin, but I was expecting it to be better than the crack motel that it was.
The show was on Saturday March 8, 2003, and we decided to get to Athens a day early. She arrived a little before I did, and was sleeping when I got there. I think it was spring break for UGA, because there weren't many kids out and about on that Friday night, but we bounced around from one bar to the next, finally ending up in some shady below-street bar where a bad local band was playing badly.
Saturday afternoon, we walked around a lot and found it to be a cool little town. One bizarre moment occurred when we were out at lunch and a girl approached me and named the place where I worked in Greensboro. I had never seen the girl before, or at least I didn't recognize her, but she obviously knew me. It made me feel really weird.
Jessica and I had both heard that the guys in GY!BE didn't like giving interviews and didn't like photography at their shows. I think when I bought the tickets, the website said something about "no photography", but we sort of assumed that this meant "no professional photography". Jessica, being a photographer, had a pretty nice camera and tried to take it into the club with her. She got it through the door, but there were signs posted all over the place indicating that the band was quite serious about not allowing photography. She was asked to leave, or at least to get rid of the camera. Since our hotel was just around the corner, we took the camera back and got back to the club in plenty of time for the show.
My memory isn't perfect, but I think that it was Black Dice who opened for GY!BE. I didn't care for them then, and I haven't warmed up to them since then. I didn't let it ruin our night, though.
While the show in Chapel Hill on my 28th birthday was sparsely attended, this one was packed. We weren't able to get very close to the stage, and it was tough to get drinks, but we didn't let that ruin our night, either. I was really jealous of Jessica, because she was getting to see them for the first time. You don't get that thrill twice. They were still really amazing the second time, but there's still something special about the first time. And in my case, my first time seeing them was my first time hearing them, so it was even more amazing to me. Again, according to setlist.fm, they played a six-song set and a one-song encore. Included in this was two of the "new" songs from Yanqui U.X.O., which wouldn't be released until the autumn of that year.
I don't remember any weird goings-on on after the show on Saturday night, but I do remember a whole lot of awkwardness in the morning on Sunday. I couldn't wait to get on the road and get back home. I think both of us reached a point where it was just over between us.
I never saw Jessica (or GY!BE) again. For that matter, I never talked to her again. A couple of weeks later, I found myself reunited with an old girlfriend and I had a good thing going there for a while until I managed to fuck that up a year later.