Published Feb 19, 2010Almost 20 years into a career of churning out a musical genre unto itself (post- or progressive rock tags just don't cut it), and Tortoise show no signs of slowing down. The capacity crowd at Lee's made no bones about their excitement, hooting and hollering, some even laughing giddily as if nitrous oxide were being released with every stick stroke from the trifecta of rhythm gods driving the core of Tortoise.
Since the band have been gracing Toronto with their presence regularly the past couple of years, it was especially thrilling to see and hear the group dig into the fresh material of '09's Beacons of Ancestorship. The laid-back tom and snare groove of "High Class Slim Came Floatin' In" opened the show, the audience cheering wildly during the epic song's dramatic lulls. With its hypnotic harpsichord motif entrancing the crowd (and confounding anyone attempting to figure out its sound source), "Gigantes" proved to be the night's biggest showstopper. Healthy doses of Beacons material continued to pepper the set, including the urgent and shredding, "Prepare Your Coffin" and TNT-era sonic-throwback "Minors."
Always the consummate showmen, though, Tortoise didn't neglect fan favourites from earlier releases. "Swung from the Gutters" might be their signature track now, the intensity of John McEntire and John Herndon's otherworldly grooves reaching blistering crescendos of furious cymbal washes. It felt like a greatest hits night, if Tortoise had hits, with such gracious representation of their body of work.
The band seemed about as thrilled as the audience to be there, goodwill and love perfuming air already thick with throaty exaltations from both sides of the fan/band divide. A healthy three-song encore was the perfect nightcap, and though it would have been nice to hear a little more new material, such quibbles are minor in the face of some of the most incredible musicianship, sound control (you could hear every note, great and small) and experimental composition known to modern man.