Tortoise’s wide ranging, if short, February American tour greeted an eager crowd at Toronto’s Lee’s Palace (their lone Canadian stop) on Thursday February 18th. The show was intensely focused while remaining expertly loose, as their signature experimental, post-rock, jazz flowed with almost no introduction, interruption or chatter. Touring on the strength of their 2009 album, Beacons of Ancestorship, Tortoise’s show also heavily featured tracks from the older TNT, a setlist choice that was embraced by the crowd. Highlights included “Swung from the Gutters” (which still seems like it needs to be featured in a soundtrack to a Tarantino-esque movie), the still hot, dynamic title track, “TNT” (to which the packed crowd could only nod appreciatively although many of us wanted to dance), and “I Set My Face to the Hillside” with its evocative mood of an otherworldly Spaghetti Western. The new up-tempo single, rock based and typically cheekily-titled, “Prepare Your Coffin”, introduced new layers to the established tones of TNT. The music, whether a short, three minute track or seven minute epic, always seemed to evoke a unique mood and feeling, a mini narrative. All of this music flowed seamlessly through a set that saw band members switch instruments and positions on the suddenly miniscule-looking stage (which was dominated by two drum kits front and centre that faced each other, a nice thouch of further symmetry). Though there was hardly a word spoken to the crowd throughout the set, the musicians, like their wordless musical storytelling, spoke well for themselves, easily drawing the same enthusiasm as many a posturing rocker has clumsily begged for. The only complaint about a near perfect show is that the big sounds of Tortoise were criminally underserved in the confines of a medium sized rock venue like Lee’s. In a perfect scenario they would always, and only, exist in midsummer at mid-evening of an open air music festival with space enough for the masses that should experience this event.
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