Tortoise – Live at Whelan’s, Dublin, July 10th, 2010

“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.

“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.

Originally published by State.ie

©  Philip Cummins. All rights reserved.

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