Tortoise

support Sam Prekop + Blondy Brownie
author LF date 07/02/16 venue Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

Even though I am generally a fan of both the post-rock genre and experimental bands in general, this show with the Chicago-based group Tortoise almost slipped under my radar. Their name has only recently become familiar to me through their January release of "The Catastrophist", which is their first album in all of seven years. Since they are however widely regarded as hugely influential in the post-rock genre, not least due to their experimental and jazz-influenced ways, I was intrigued enough to decide to go to this impressively almost sold-out show on a Sunday evening.

Pictures by Henrik "Mauser" Reerslev can be seen at Vega's official gallery

Blondy Brownie

A little earlier than the announced start of the show, the two-woman indie pop band Blondy Brownie take the stage along with their friend Léo Campbell Algar, who helps out with drums as well as guitar and some vocals later on. As they remark, John McEntire of Tortoise has played drums for them on a couple of recordings, but tonight they take care of things without his involvement. The multi-instrumentalist duo consists of Catherine De Biasio on keyboards, trombone, drums and supporting vocals, and Aurélie Muller on vocals, bass and keyboards as well. They rotate around the stage through the show, changing instruments a few times as needed, and even though the floor is all but empty to begin with, they play through their set with a confident and inviting attitude. Most of their songs have a very similar distant or dreamy feel mainly because of the atmospheric keyboards and the plainly sung vocals that consistently stay at a very casual energy-level and are never pushed further. The trio is accompanied through most of the songs by a kind of disco ball in the middle of the stage that throws ethereal blue lights around the ceiling and the walls which only further enhances the dreamy impression from their music. While their songs as mentioned do vary in instrumentation and also range all the way from being sinister and electronic-based to warmer and folksy ones, they don't make much more than a light impact tonight, while the venue slowly fills up to capacity.

Sam Prekop

While Sam Prekop is here tonight as a solo act with his bulky and, from what I can gather, home-made synthesizer (you can see a picture here), he is also known as the front man of the Chicago-based indie rock band The Sea and Cake, and once again there's a connection here to Tortoise's John McEntire, who is also active in Prekop's band. His performance tonight consists of him sitting on a chair sideways on the stage while turning knobs, flicking switches and even moving around one or two of the many coloured wires that connect different things all over the futuristically looking instrument with its many constantly blinking lights. From this very static visual performance comes a continuous stream of sounds that build up different themes and rhythms that are always evolving into something new and gradually replace each other throughout the set. As you can obviously tell already, as a rock critic this is not something I feel very equipped to rate in any way and thus, you should take the grade below with a grain of salt. Based on the amount of talk in the back half of the venue, though, several other people here seem to feel somewhat the same way as me, and even though there is something powerful and alluring about Prekop's weaving of sounds, the lack of distinct themes or even bigger variation in the basic moods of the music quickly puts me in an unsatisfying place somewhere between curious and confused for the duration of his performance.

5

Tortoise

When the headlining instrumental quintet of the evening takes the stage, I am not for the first time in my life suffering from the weird fact that experimental or proggy music seems to attract more than the usual amount of tall people. My view thus impeded most places I try and place myself, the band's music is left very much to speak on its own. I do however get a few glimpses of the band's setup which consists of two drum kits facing each other at the center of the stage, xylophones and keyboards on both sides, and in the back guitars and bass. As with the first band of the evening, Tortoise consists of multi-instrumentalists, and while two of the members mostly stick to bass and guitar, the three remaining members rotate often to pick up whatever instrument is needed to play each new song. To my luck, they play a fair share of recognizable songs from their new album, but even though they play specific songs with the different sections all in the correct places, there's a loose feeling to the way they do it. While there are no huge improvisational moments, there's a certain attitude in their playing together that points undeniably to enticing jazz-influences that I am at least not used to hearing in my post-rock.

Due to the fact that some songs feature both drum kits at the same time as well as the fact that they're placed in front of the other instruments on stage, rhythm becomes a very dominating element in much of tonight's set, and the loud sound mix suffers slightly from this in songs that feature more delicate synth melodies. At other times, some very deep synths vibrate through the room in a way that feels like they're shaking the bones in my spine in a not entirely comfortable way. Still, some of my favorites in "Shake Hands With Danger" and "Ox Duke" sound absolutely great, and the dreamy "Yonder Blue", that originally features vocals, also makes for a highlight when the melody is played on a xylophone instead. Despite it being a Sunday show that's already crowded with two support acts, Tortoise ends up playing two encores, the first one with a couple of more lively songs that pique my interest more than much of their previous set. For the most part, though, I can't help but feel that their music made a bigger impact on me on record than it does in this situation tonight, but in a less warm and less cramped room, this might admittedly be very different.

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