The five multi-instrumentalists who comprise Tortoise opened up their nearly 20-year-deep catalog for enthusiastic fans at the Grog Shop last night in a performance that satisfied with two encores.
The group — with its instrumental, composition-based rock/jazz/electronic amalgamation of music — often employed two drummers playing simultaneously, interweaving rhythms like melodies. The three worked the kits, bells, guitars, and synthesizers while Doug McCombs and Jeff Parker provided intelligent and colorful string work.
“High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In,” from 2009’s Beacons of Ancestorship started the set, marked by Dan Bitney’s rolling drums, while later, “Prepare Your Coffin” came off grimy and electric, like theme music for some badass action hero.
“Swung From the Gutters” from 1998’s TNT was revisited and revised with a gritty, improvisational feel, while “Crest” from It’s All Around You was made personal and touching by the work John Herndon did on the drums, driving accents and pumping like a heartbeat till the song’s culmination.
While fans were given the customary encore, their persistent cheers brought the band back to perform “Seneca,” from 2001’s Standards. It began like some hippie-era rock anthem then broke into a satisfying groove plucked against by a rigid guitar and coated with a drifting layer of keys before ending in a cacophony of polyrhythmic hand claps.
Through their extended set Tortoise was able to produce musical chaos while maintaining cool, masters-of-the-universe control, finding just the right time to pull back into a groove and keep the dedicated pocket of dancers within their charm and calling for more. —Adam Burroughs