field report no.031716

LOCATION: Littlefield BK.NY
SUBJECT: Tortoise

I was about to move to Chicago, from Portland, Oregon to start art school. Being a lifetime music nerd, I acclimated myself to the idea of moving halfway across the country by trying to discover what was going on in my new home's music scene. I think it was WIRE magazine that twigged me to Tortoise. My first purchase was the Gamera EP on day-glo yellow vinyl (oh, how I wish I still had that copy). The encounter was transformative. A few years later, I saw them live for the first time, at a blistering sold out show, headlining one of the Lounge Axe farewell gigs, as it was ignobly shut down. Subsequent albums, Millions Now Living and TNT are landmarks in my aesthetic evolution.

Somewhere along the way, either I got overly comfortable with Tortoise, or they got too complacent. Historically, I've blamed guitarist Jeff Parker, who replaced David Pajo and Bundy K. Brown before him. Seeing them live, though, I have to admit I've been too harsh. Parker is, of course, a great guitarist, but I'm still not sure he's the best one for Tortoise. Where every member of the band is a stylistic swiss army knife, Parker seems to have one setting: the jazz guy in a rock band. Maybe a more omnibus, all-styles guitarist would push their sonics further afield.

This night also made me reassess my opinions of their LPs. Two albums—Standards and Beacons of Ancestorship—easily supplied the most barnstorming takes of the night. I liked both albums, well enough, when they were released but clearly have not gone back to them enough.

I showed up early, for the first act of the night: Man Forever, led by Kid MIllions of Oneida. I'd seen a set by him before and been put off by it. Recently I'd listened to an excellent album by him with the classical ensemble So Percussion, and thought it was worth a second chance. Unfortunately, this night was an almost carbon copy of the first disappointment. I was treated to a wanking drum circle with intermittent wordless singing in poor multi-part harmony. I did score a copy of said album with So Percussion on vinyl though…

Mind Over Mirrors was worth the early arrival, though. His pump-organ and arpeggio-driven ambient drone is simple but supple. It contains deep wells of tone and dissonance to dwell in.

NOTES: Tortoise; Mind Over Mirrors; Man Forever