TORTOISE IS COMING OUT OF THEIR SHELL

Tortoise is finally coming out of their shell. The Chicago based instrumental modern math rock masters treated San Francisco a stellar show at The Fillmore on Tuesday night, the first of a two night run. A dark and ominous presence on the American Indie scene, Tortoise bridges the ‘jam band’ sound and organic instrumentation with new wave electronica. Their sound is unique and moving, a cadaverous jam shrouded in thick layers of drums and bass.

The show opened with the not-so-standard "Standards," from the recent studio release of the same name. It began loud and heavy, the band emerging from the darkness of the stage with an intense fury of sound, and the subtle glow of the soft purple lighting of the Fillmore.

Purveyors of a new jam sound, Tortoise combines the musicianship of classic rock with the electronica sound, heavy on the beats and bass. The instrumental setup provides juxtaposition between electronic dance music and that light, airy sound that is their signature. One drum kit sits ominously pounding out deep bass which pushes the sound in trip-hop fusion directions, while the second drum set merrily tips out the hi-hat and laid back mood which grounds the sound in jazz roots.

They have a sound that is all their own, somewhere between jazz and rock, between improvisation and structure, between electronic and organic. And it works. After belting out the complex, brash new tunes, Tortoise settled into an older groove with some quintessential American Indie-rock with a few selections from the deconstructed classic rock, con-expressionistic grooves from 1996’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die.

The sound waned and the players exited stage, and although peeps thought that this was the end, but the most expressionistic jams were yet to come. Here we heard the junglist free-form electronica that has shaped the American Indie scene and all Post Modern Rock. Its cool jazz for the 90’s and beyond, an amalgam of dance and jazz, electronic and organic.

With experimentalism grounded in solid, yet non-cliché rhythms, Tortoise managed to explore abstraction without alienating the listeners. They rolled through classics from 1998’s TNT, an album that finds quintessential Tortoise arrangements with bass eclipsing guitar eclipsing organ. Add to this the bizarre and intricate arrangement the unique vibe which dual xylophone players and a melodica offer, and we have one strange being.

Like proficient mathematicians or mad jazz scientists, Tortoise is taking lab experimentation to a new level. Oh yeah... and don't forget to Go See Live Music!

James Martin
JamBase San Francisco Correspondent

[Published on: 6/6/01]

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