Tortoise have been in my CD collection for ages. I own “Standards” & have heard some of their other albums. I don’t love them but they interest me so I went to see them at London’s The Garage last week. I was intrigued how they’d present their intricate, atmospheric but never wishy-washy sound on stage. Oh, that plus my good friend bought me a ticket and made me go…

Tortoise at The GarageTortoise at The Garage

Their sound is dense, layered and conciously avoids typical progressions, arrangements or instrumentation. The albums are a challenge to get into, not because they’re dischordant or a-rhythmic, but because there’s so many novel combinations of sounds. The live show was impressive, reinforcing the advanced musicality with most of the band playing guitar, bass, drums, vibrophone, xylophone and keyboards at various points during the set. The two, facing, drum kits were played by three or four of the band at one time or another; for one track the two drummers played exactly the same patterns throughout!

They’re hugely impressive, technically and creatively, but they’re still not a “comfortable” band. Whilst their melodies are pretty and their rhythms hold a groove, their arrangements and progressions bring a tension to the experience that is never quite resolved.