Tortoise @ Theatre Rialto

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It’s funny how you can sometimes remember exactly how you discovered a band.  One of my favourite bands of all time is Explosions In The Sky, and in an effort to satiate my appetite for yet more post-rock, I looked up lists of the “10 Best Post-Rock Records.” Number 1 on many of those?  1996’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die, by Chicago 5-piece Tortoise.  That was the moment, and I’ve been listening ever since.

Upon entering the resplendent Theatre Rialto tonight on the penultimate night of Pop Montreal, it’s clear that there’s a definite age demographic associated with Tortoise.  Lots of grey hair, lots of wrinkles, and not a Tik-Tok’er in sight.  Certainly, nobody under the age of 30 as far as I can see!  It’s the first night of a 5-city run, their first tour in 2½ years; kudos to the organizers for making Montreal one of those 5!

It’s a fascinating show, as band members rotate from instrument to instrument throughout.  Things start out somewhat distant from the atmospheric post-rock vibes you’ve come to associate with the band, or with the genre in general; Monica sounds more like a jazz improv with opposing drummers hammering away in perfect time… perhaps now post-jazz is a thing?!  In Sarah, Mencken, Christ, And Beethoven… then layers in the funk, before a mammoth Ten Day Interval blows away the floor and the balcony simultaneously, as 3 guys simultaneously playing xylophone create Jean Michel Jarre-esque soundscapes that could easily soundtrack a Kubrick movie.  Judging by the volume of clips that the band share on their Instagram page afterwards (mine included), it was the highlight for many this evening.

A few songs later, and from my vantage spot on the balcony, I see a few on the floor dancing frenetically, limbs flailing in all directions.  I become instantly curious as to what the vibe must be like down there because the balcony is way more laid-back (as is usually the case, I suppose).  So I venture downstairs, and sure enough, things are a lot different.  The bass is heavier, the lights are brighter, and the show is immediately more immersive.  Eros takes us down a truly electronica path reminiscent of the mighty Four Tet before Crest closes out the main set in grandiose manner; “thank you!” is the first thing anyone in the band says to the crowd all night as the band scurry off stage.

After a short break, the rumbling bass stirs back to life to introduce the stutter-step snare drums of Tin Cans & Twine, which ultimately sounds so much more powerful live than on record.  Seneca ends the show for good in a blaze of dazzling spotlights and a flurry of handclaps from around the room, stage included.  The mark of a confident band?  To not play a single song from the “number 1 best post-rock record” the entire night.  1998’s TNT gets the most representation, which is totally fine by me too!  A storming 90 minutes, and a fine return for Tortoise.

Set List

  1. Prepare Your Coffin
  2. Monica
  3. In Sarah, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Women and Men
  4. Ten-Day Interval
  5. Swung From the Gutters
  6. I Set My Face to the Hillside
  7. Gesceap
  8. Gigantes
  9. The Suspension Bridge at Iguazú Falls
  10. High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In
  11. Eros
  12. Crest


  1. Tin Cans & Twine
  2. Seneca

Review & photos – Simon Williams

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