Arts, The Muse

Tortoise Re-envisions Drums

Last Tuesday, post-rock legends Tortoise loaded the stage of the Paradise with an array of drum sets, a marimba, a vibraphone, keyboards, and other gadgets. While two drum sets is unusual in itself, Tortoise includes three skilled percussionists, and members switched instruments for almost every song. Their last album, Beacons of Ancestorships, was light on the Steve Reich-y marimba sound that they had become known for on the seminal Millions Now Living Will Never Die and TNT, but longtime fans will be pleased to know that Tortoise's back-catalog is still well-represented in their live show.

The band kicked off with the lead track from Beacons, "High Class Slim Came Floatin' In,"a multi-part piece with endless syncopation and rhythm changes, led by two drummers and culminating with a synth melody spreading to guitar and bass. "Minors" featured similar tricks, as keyboard and guitar traded a few notes at a time and then began to play the same melody but overlapping slightly as drums shifted the beat, giving a different feel to each measure and each moment. "Eros" layered complex marimba polyrhythms over sludgy keyboard, and "Benway" kept a 5/4 beat with vibraphone and guitar in unison, both suddenly taking a break from the rhythm to punctuate the song with an upward melody, more notable because of the contrast. "In Sarah, Mencken, Christ, and Beethoven There Were Men and Women" paired a tropical guitar riff with intense drumming, and with so many capable drummers, it's no wonder the band manipulates rhythm the way they do, and to great effect. However, when the band shifted to more straightforward material, they were able to engage the crowd more and keep energy up. Steady, stuttering drums gave "The Suspension Bridge at Iguazú Falls" from TNT a completely different shape, and the band fell into a muscular locked groove of marimba, samples, vibes, and guitar. "Gigantes," from Beacons, spun a simple one-note twang into a veritable dance song before exploding into simultaneous and ridiculous screeching guitar solos, but the drummers kept stressing the same beats all the while, the only sign that we were still hearing the same song.

While Tortoise can get somewhat noodly for those who aren't attuned to post-rock and all its trappings, they're absolutely talented musicians and songwriters,constantly reshaping songs as they play them. And if you've ever been one for watching good drummers, Tortoise are as mesmerizing as they come, times two.

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