I have to say that I was a little disappointed by Tortoise. Considering they’ve been around now for twenty two years and have released more albums than I care to count, I should have expected them to be getting to that Miles Davis in the 80’s point of their career, but somehow I figured that this band, who had so forcefully pursued such interesting and diverse fields of music throughout their career, would still be offering up something challenging to us, the audience, as opposed to seemingly trying to challenge themselves by exploring more traditional sounds and directions.
While their musical choices did leave a little to be expected, as far as their playing went the band were on fire by the halfway point, despite having a bit of a shaky start to proceedings. With two drum kits set up at the front of the stage, an electronic marimba/midi controller, vibraphone, guitars, bass and more synths than anyone other than Jean Michelle Jarre should need, there was plenty of variety in what they presented, with members jumping around between instruments every few songs, each showcasing a stunning proficiency in which ever instrument they chose to pick up.
The highlight of the show was the epic drum offs between any of the three drummers in the band, with each frenetic jam sending out a crazy sort of tribal party vibe that got the crowd moving along.
What failed about the show was that they insisted on playing a lot of their newer material, which I just find sort of boring and obvious. The synth lines are cliché, the guitar and bass sounds almost like jazz-funk at times, and while the drumming is amazing as always, the band seem to have sacrificed the breadth of their sound by focusing on playing very similar lines a lot. This does add a degree of wall of sound to it all, but not really enough to warrant the loss of their diversity and engaging complexity.
Really it just felt like they weren’t so much trying to entertain us as they were trying to entertain themselves, coming off very jam band in the process. You get the feeling that after twenty two years of playing together they have relaxed into the music and lost the sense of urgency and relevance they had in the first ten or fifteen years of their career.
In saying this they put on a great show; each member looked like he was having a fucking ball on stage and the music was faultless in execution. Dan Bitney looked like he was on some great pills, sweating like a bastard and pulling faces like a news anchor getting a blowjob under his desk, while Jeff Parker and John Herndon pulled some pretty epic O faces throughout the show.
While I did find a lot of the show to be wandering and indulgent I still managed to enjoy myself, but had I had to pay fifty bucks to see the show I would have been quite disappointed. But hey I’m really cynical and jaded right now so if anyone went to the show and thought it was awesome please harangue me over it.