Posted in music on May 31, 2009

by Martin Longley

DOWNLOAD: Tortoise - Prepare Your Coffin (MP3)

Tortoise @ the Bell House in Brooklyn - May 30, 2009 (Ben Sisto)
Bell House

Less than a month before Beacons Of Ancestorship is released, Tortoise hit town for two highly contrasting gigs over a single weekend. First, they played a sold-out show at The Bell House, in Brooklyn's deserted Gowanus canal zone, then they climax the Bang On A Can marathon at the World Financial Center (tonight, 5/31). It's a return to full-on activity, as Tortoise's sixth studio album is effectively their first in five years. And now, their summer tour schedule is dawning.

Even though The Bell House is at capacity, this still doesn't make the gig uncomfortably crowded, particularly when taking advantage of the handy raised-bar area. The stage is kinda old-fashioned in its open-access bandstand look, allowing plenty of room for the massed multi-instrumentalist antics of Tortoise. All is in near-darkness, so the constant swapping of instruments isn't so disruptive or distracting.

Once at the vanguard of research into improvised roccolage, the quintet have become old established experimenters, whose former ramming together of cut-up elements now seems like a slickly-gliding fusion. Their sound is still their own, though: a unique mixture of rock, jazz, electro and minimalism, with all parts becoming Tortoisian once fed through their stylistic masticator.

Sometimes, the Tortoise output can become a tad stodgy, veering from nimble post-rock into behemoth prog. It's as though the band have become so familiar with its once-wild techniques that their results now sound too pre-formed, with all spiny encrustations smoothed into an aerodynamically efficient shape. At some points, they are sounding alarmingly like Yes. Most of the power surges as the Johns Herndon and McEntire coincide simultaneously on the drumkits, driving through interlocking beats inspired by samba, techno and the entire continent of Africa, sometimes during a single song. There's real marimba and a virtual vibes/percussion sample-trigger set-up too, ably deployed on the more minimalist stretches. The core Tortoise set lasts for an hour, but their enthusiastically-won encore stretches out for another 25 minutes, beginning with "High Class Slim Came Floatin' In", which also opens up the new album. It's the best tune of the evening, an immediate grower that's set to become a Tortoise classic. This is finding them at their techno end, and it's these moments, as well as their several headbanging rock-riffing cluster-outbursts that provide the peaks of the show.

If you miss Tortoise this time around, they'll be back again in July. Their new video for "Prepare Your Coffin" is below...



Comments (15)

"stodgy"?!?!? anything but. they SLAYED last night.

Posted by Anonymous | May 31, 2009 10:10 PM

setlist anyone?

Posted by Anonymous | May 31, 2009 10:50 PM

They played from 11:30 - 12:10 for bang a can. Environment + time + whiskey made it a cool time.

Posted by Anonymous | June 1, 2009 1:17 AM

playing chops wise and sound quality wise (drum/guitar tone) they paled in comparison to Bang on a can All stars which were on just before them. Just saying...

Posted by Anonymous | June 1, 2009 2:16 AM

They played 2 hours at Bell House and I don't think I ever heard that kind of applause there before. Totally different level.

Posted by Anonymous | June 1, 2009 9:57 AM

The Bell House show was indeed sublime. Perfect room for them.

Posted by b | June 1, 2009 10:01 AM

so pissed i missed this show, and i had tickets!

Posted by Anonymous | June 1, 2009 10:14 AM

wtf is up with that new song? Teh lames.

Posted by Anonymous | June 1, 2009 11:59 AM

Really disappointed in the new material. Boooooring. They have run out of ideas, man. So let down.

Posted by Gor | June 1, 2009 12:38 PM

so shut up and find another band, man...

Posted by Anonymous | June 1, 2009 12:44 PM

The driving rhythm and Jeff Parker's guitar solo in that track were the only hip things going. This clearly isn't the standout track on the new album.

Posted by Anonymous | June 1, 2009 4:11 PM

Concert was amazing on Saturday night, sound was great, long encore, damn fine job fellas.

Posted by This Music Sucks | June 2, 2009 11:47 AM

awesome show on saturday at the bell house.

does anyone know what tortoise played at the bang on a can marathon?

Posted by Anonymous | June 2, 2009 12:43 PM

Phenomenal show on Saturday night. I drove from VA to chill with some cool people there that weekend and that show was mindblowing. Will see them again in DC.

Posted by Brett | June 3, 2009 1:07 AM

Set list at the Bellhouse included the songs I listed below. I think I got all of them. In terms of order, I know I have the beginning right, and the last two songs right. But I forget the exact order of the songs in the middle. Great show.

Prepare your coffin
Gigantes – (to me,this is the best new song, it killed)
In beethoevn, menchen and Christ there were women and men
The fall of seven diamonds plus one
Charteroak foundation

High class slim came floatin’ in
Swung from the gutter
I set my face to the hillside

Posted by john | June 3, 2009 12:51 PM

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