Chicago post-rockers Tortoise are just like the animal that their moniker invokes. Well, not exactly like it; I’ve never seen a tortoise perform a killer instrumental post-rock song, though I wouldn’t mind seeing one try. Rather, it is the band’s unbelievable staying power that makes them so much like the long-lived reptile.
I’d be willing to bet that most fans of indie rock today were just discovering the wonders of puberty when Tortoise’s 1994 debut laid the groundwork for a career that would see the band become one of the most important post-rock acts ever.
Fast-forward sixteen years to Mr. Smalls Theater in Pittsburgh, PA. Considering that the show was on a Wednesday night, the turnout was decent. I really can’t think of a better place to see Tortoise, besides maybe the moon or inside a spaceship. Mr. Smalls is an old cathedral church retrofitted into an amazing music venue. The acoustics are amazing—every plucked string, tapped hi-hat, and stroked key fills the space with beauty.
The Disappears started the night admirably. Their sound is like My Bloody Valentine fused with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and it creates a static-filled wall of sound. They showed promise but their songs ultimately felt repetitive and their influences too obvious. The grotesque amounts of reverb made the band’s lack of confidence in their singer painfully obvious; I literally did not understand one word uttered.
Fortunately for us, Tortoise is a much more highly evolved beast — they are practically overflowing with originality. Even their stage setup is unusual; they had two drum sets front and center facing each other, two bass players, a keyboard, and two xylophones stationed behind the drums. You have to admire a band with a crazy set up like that.
I’ll admit, I am not exceedingly familiar with Tortoise’s body of work. I do, however, know talent when I see it. The members of Tortoise are, first and foremost, excellent musicians. Percussion is the focal point of their live show, which undulates from jazz to electronic ambience, and everything in between. Throughout the show, they created a complex, interesting tapestry of sound. Their tempos speed up and slow down so much that my ears barely hadenough time to digest what they’d just heard. Therein lies the beauty of Tortoise.
The set was around an hour long and got progressively better as each song built into sublime moments that any music fan could appreciate. The crowd was very warm and thankful. I could tell that most in attendance were genuine fans and much more familiar with Tortoise than I was. Though I hadn’t been quite sure what to expect going into this show, I left with the feeling that I had just seen a band that does not compromise their vision or integrity, and that is something I can respect any day of the week.
More photos from the show are below.