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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Royal Vulcan Tortoise

posted by on June 27 at 13:35 PM

tortoise_logo.jpgTortoise at Neumos last night. The Chicago sextet was tight and taut as piano wire. (And thatís tight - 1.5 x 109 N/m2 ) Three drummers rotating, guitars, bass, synth, vibraphone , and digital marimba (thank you, E. You are perfect.) Geometric visuals of shapes were projected and completed the wrapping of the Tortoise shell.

Their stage is set with two drum kits facing each other front and center. Monitors, amps, rack fx, and instruments flank.

Moments thundered, post rock. Moments steered through stasis. And moments caught the eye with two drummers facing each other in the middle of the stage doling out locked beat complexities.


(Picture from ICA.)

The room was full and most stayed through the two encores. They played old and new and I especially enjoyed their delving back to the 1998 TNT Ė ďI Set my Face to the HillsideĒ and ďGlass MuseumĒ off the í96 Millions Now Living Will Never Die.

I thought the show was solid, technically speaking. The room sound was good (bass heavy), and people were very much into it. The guys in Tortoise are all amazing musicians and theyíve been playing and carving their sound for years. Rarely is it ever going to disappoint to see musicians like this and a band like this play and interact.

Somehow though, I was disappointed.

John McEntire, drummer, arranger, producer is preeminent. (Recent Zwickel article.) Heís developed a sound and has the ability to actualize that sound. Heís as pro as pro can get, all the way around. Ok ok, heís kind of a hero of mine. And Iíve never seen Tortoise or McEntire play. Maybe my expectations were a little high, maybe I have the guy on too much of a pedestal.

I write:

Dear John, Where is the love, man? You didnít even acknowledge the crowd. You sat there like a royal Vulcan, presiding, emotionless and oblivious to the worshipers at your feet. I donít think you smiled once during the show, except when you were in holy conference with band members. What gives? I listen to TNT religiously and regularly. I read JZís article 19 times. You are my Elvis. But you acted kind of pompous during the show, maybe even with a slight hint of douche bag in there.

Would a wave to the crowd been too much? Maybe a hello or a goodbye or a Ďsee you next timeí? Itís like you couldnít have given a shit whether you were there or not. Iím crushed, John, crushed. Itís not like I wanted to hang out or go on a fishing trip with you or anything. I just wanted a little wave to the crowd. Iím sorry, maybe you werenít feeling well, I shouldnít rush to judge. Iím sorry. Iím still a fan. You played great. Iíll go buy a poster right now. Iíll be listening to you on TNT for the rest of the day.

I donít know what youíre doing later, maybe I could call you. Do you want to go on a deep sea fishing trip? Just the two of us?

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Um, Mr Music Journalist, Tortoise did not play a xylophone last night. The instrument on the right side of the stage with the metal bars is called a vibraphone, it has tubes running down each block for resonance which you can manipulate using a foot pedal. A xylophone has wooden bars and you hit it with a mallet. The instrument on the other side of that stage that was also being hit by mallets was a digital marimba, definitely not a xylophone.
I actually liked how Mr. McEntire looked so stoic and aloof without being too serious. He just looked like someone who was focused on his job - but DEFINITELY someone who was "giving a shit" as you put it. The other guys in the band acted more human. My question for you is: what were you expecting, a stage dive?

It was an awesome, inspirational show and you know it, so just write what's true.

Posted by E | June 27, 2007 2:33 PM

Thank you, E,

Vibraphone. I meant vibraphone. I make correction now and credit you. You - right, me - wrong. Me - human, and make mistakes sometime. Me - didn't mean to say the wrong instrument.

As far as whether I thought McEntire gave a shit, that's completely up to me. My opinion. And in my opinion, the guy acted like he couldn't have given a shit if he was there or not. It has nothing to do with truth or not. Unless you're John McEntire. Are you John McEntire?

The show was great. I'm a huge Tortoise fan. Did you read me saying McEntire is a hero? And how the guys are amazing?

Posted by trent moorman | June 27, 2007 2:52 PM

I'm not John McEntire. I think I might be a Vulcan though. Hey, the "truth" thing was a bit over the line, my bad, not trying to say anything about your overall work or anything like that.
It was a good show, i just thought that his attitude (acting as if he was a scientist/wizard of music) was part of the act, or at least enhanced my opinion.

Posted by E | June 27, 2007 3:08 PM

McEntire is definitely a wizard, and a scientist. He's true to what he does. And someone in his position can act a little duechy or aloof if they want to.

Duechy may be too heavy a word, how the hell do you spell duechy?

I agree with you about him being way into what he's doing, and someone concentrating that hard could look like they are blocking other things out.

I was talking with Zwickel after they show and was saying how it's cool to see guys like that in their own world. They've been playing together for so long and have such a rapport and unconscious connection to each other and what they are doing. They have their own language.

I just thought McEntire could have waved or something or acknowledged the crowd once. Maybe he did, but I didn't see it.

Do you think he would go on a fishing trip with me? I mean, I don't even fish, but just the two of us, out at sea, talking about music and production, you know?

Posted by trent moorman | June 27, 2007 3:20 PM

Come to think of it, I actually did see him smile at one point during the set. It was when he was playing drums and looking at the other drummer (only for a second, like he was breaking character), but otherwise he was robotic. And you're right, a wave to the crowd would have been nice.
You should contact him and ask him to kick it -- unless he's an asshole he'd appreciate the gesture. He seems like a pretty cool dude and is probably way more down to earth when not performing.

Posted by E | June 27, 2007 3:36 PM

douchey? douchť?

maybe start with a coffee date and take it from don't want to scare him off early.

Posted by nick | June 27, 2007 3:40 PM

Awwwww - one hipster not acknowledging another hipster in the room? Surely you've been to The Cha Cha or a Modest Mouse show. HE is John McEntire. HE is working. You, on the other hand, just standing there waiting to be noticed? Lots of us own TNT. BFD. Let me guess - while you were getting six-shooters tattooed onto your hips (you know, like they were real guns shoved into your waistband), or while you were getting 5-pointed stars tattooed onto your forearms, or while you were adjusting the foam on your trucker hat in the lobby of Super Geniu's (sic), nobody acknowledged you either.... pffffft.

Posted by Mr. Boo Hoo | June 27, 2007 4:13 PM

Goodness, # 7, it sounded like Trent was wanting McEntire to acknowledge the room. Not acknowledge him specifically. And I think he makes a good point. Wait, Trent has 6 shooters tattooed on his hips?

#7, you sound like a gigantic douchebag. However you spell it. A gigantic cocksucker.

Posted by shane | June 27, 2007 6:05 PM

I've seen Tortoise a number of times and for me that was not one of their better performances. I didn't like the new arrangements of some of their older songs, especially the replacement of live mallet playing with keyboard parts. I'm not a big fan of Dan Bitney's bass playing. I liked it when he used to play congas and do the drum machine stuff through effects. I think it's interesting that they're working more of Doug McCombs's baritone playing into the music, but it just didn't sound that great to my ears at certain times last night. I wish he'd been on bass more.

What was with the abbreviated version of Djed? No dueling mallet part? The Magnet Pulls Through medley was ok, but the lack of McCombs' bass really hurts the song...I get the feeling that they're bored and changing things around just to change them around.

From where I was standing the sound was simply awful.

On the other hand, John Herndon was amazing as usual, as were McEntire and Jeff Parker.

Oh yeah, and McEntire's always like that. He's just kinda...weird. Watch him when he plays drums though, he's definitely feeling it.

Posted by bucky | June 27, 2007 10:49 PM

Agreed, #7 - A Dooosh.

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