‘Play the hits!’, shouts an uninitiated punter. Tortoise, of course, don’t do hits. Almost 15 years on from their defining masterpiece, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, Tortoise’s post- rock credentials are still intact. Initially, the crowd appears to be a convention for all the children of Sonic Youth’s band members. In time, however, they become audience members at a jazz concert: if they aren’t chin-scratching, they’re nodding in rhythm to drum solos and swinging wildly to melody-laden pieces of meticulously crafted music.
On a small stage crammed full of xylophones, guitars and synthesizers, two drum kits are pitted against each other. It is clear from the outset that while Tortoise operates as a democratic unit, all cues are taken from Jeff Parker. The remaining band members look to Parker, the only member of the band with a set list, to initiate the night’s proceedings. He hits a key on his Moog synthesizer and, gradually, all of the remaining band members find their way into -High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In’, the opening track from their latest full- length LP, Beacons of Ancestorship.
What becomes more and more apparent as the show progresses is that, like a jazz or classical concert, one can easily follow the direction that the band decides to take on that particular night. By the time the band sift into -Charteroak Foundation’, the final song of the night, it’s clear that Tortoise, like Mogwai, effortlessly bleed all of their songs into one, continuously flowing mood-piece. What’s so generous and giving about this approach to a live show is that it provides both first-time and long-time listeners alike a single point of entry into what the band is all about, which the stop-start approach of most rock concerts doesn’t really allow. All the more impressive is Tortoise’s refusal to reduce their show to art-rock gimmicks and pretentions: at no point do the band members play into the crowd by donning ‘quirky’ outfits or throwing a bass drum in the air only to catch it without missing a beat. Tortoise are simply too focused on leading their audience into the next vibe and we’re all the better for it.
Photo by Jonas aka Voss.