Sherry and I managed to get three trips to Minneapolis in June– the first two trips were weddings of cousins of hers and the last trip was to see Tortoise at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. I hadn’t been to the Cedar before so I was interested to see what it was like. This would be the first time I have been able to take decent pictures of Tortoise– the last time I saw them was in 2005 in Madison with Daniel Lanois. My pictures from that show were taken with my Treo. This time I was able to bring in my new 10 Megapixel Canon Digital Rebel XTi and my super-fast Canon EF 55mm f/1.8 lens that allowed me to take these accompanying shots without a flash. This lens is $75 and everyone should have one!
While the show was General Admission, I incorrectly assumed that it would have theatre-style seating the way the Barrimore in Madison did. The Cedar is laid out like a gymnasium. There were three sets of three rows of seats along the walls. Thankfully we showed up early enough that we could get seats, but they were on floor level with the standing crowd so sitting in the seats meant you couldn’t see the stage. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get very close to the stage for shots head on, so the best shots were from the left side of the stage.
The opening act was Make Believe. I hadn’t heard of them but they were apparently a touring version of the band Joan of Arc. Looking at some stuff online tonight, apparently the lead singer left the band the show after this one. Frankly, the band really had a problem with the lead singer as far as a number of folks that I talked to were concerned. The band was loud, angular, dissonant like Sonic Youth in their punkier days. The lead singer was really not too interested in being there based on the wandering between-song cracks and dialog with the audience. My wife said that she could deal with the band and that they were pretty good, but the singer didn’t seem to be in sync with them. I would agree. We’ll see what happens with Make Believe if they get a new singer.
After a quick break that had Tortoise setting themselves up– you have to respect a band that still lugs their gear– Tortoise hit the stage and performed what was the best show I’d seen in the four times I’ve seen them since 1998. I think that it helps that they have been touring most of these songs since 2005’s It’s All Around You. These songs and transitions have become very tight and Tortoise seemed very comfortable– they were even talking to the audience! Listening to my collection of live recordings of Tortoise dating back to their first gig in 1992 I very rarely hear much commentary from the band save an occasional “Thanks!”
After a funny exchange with the audience about this being an all-ages show and some cracks about how old the band is, they launched into a great “Magnet Pulls Through > Eden 2” followed by “Five Too Many” and “Ten-Day Interval.” The band had done this particular line up of songs earlier in the tour and someone online referred to this as the “number” set of songs.
The rest of the set contains many of the standard songs the band has been playing on tour drawing mainly from the last three albums– It’s All Around You, Standards, and TNT with the occasional song from the first two. That night the band seemed particularly inspired and energetic. I understand that Tortoise is already working on the next album and I hope that this burst of energy means that this album will be as strong as the last three.
I’m always astounded by the lock-step drumming that McEntire and Herndon execute on the songs where there are two drummers. It seems to require what would be heavy concentration– with McEntire’s “thousand-yard stare” that has been commented on. McEntire and Herndon provide their drumming prowess in Bumps with Dan Bitney which is a side project that has created a record of beats on the hiphip label Stones Throw.
The encore was a surprise as they did the equivalent of two encores! We were also treated to an “Omnichord” which is always a welcome sonic blast. During the encore, Dan told the audience that they would be covering “Sailing” by Christopher Cross or “Baker Street” as a tribute to songs played at weddings. Instead we were treated to a soaring finale of “Salt the Skies.”
A fantastic show that makes me anxious to hear what’s next for Tortoise.
During the teardown, I asked one of the guys helping for a copy of the setlist– that is the handwritten abbreviations at the top and left of this article. This one was taped to Doug McCombs’ pile of effects pedals.
I managed to connect with the taper of this show and I’m working with him on the setlist and edits. I will be seeding this as a torrent on bt.etree.org in the future.