We Saw Post-Rock Progenitors Tortoise At Aliwal Arts Centre

I’ll admit something. I used to think Post-rock was a left-wing conspiracy by music snobs (I think they’re called hipsters these days) to create intentionally obfuscating music to further alienate the general populace and to ensure their continued monopoly on obscure music. This was no King Crimson or Yes with palatable chords and rhythms you could sink your teeth into – this was droning, with little progression or grandiosity; something my young pop-culture addled mind failed to appreciate or comprehend. Thus ended my brief flirtation with bands like Mogwai, Tortoise or Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Fast forward a few years and I’m standing in a cramped black box in Aliwal arts centre waiting for Tortoise to play, surrounded by music aficionados that get their rocks off on post-rock (heh). People were discussing bass manufacturers and shifting time signatures while I was trying to remember what day of the week it was – not a good start. Formed more than 2 decades ago and still going strong, there had to be reasons for their longevity as I was about to find out.

While not the most accessible ever, the music was strangely absorbing. It was in equal parts intricate and sweeping, flecked with bits of jazz, rock and even electronica. Absent was the familiar sense of momentum found in drone or progressive, instead replaced by an attention to detail not unlike jazz. It was all complex chord progressions and poly-whatnots. (I don’t pretend to be very well educated in the technical aspects of music) The band moved like well oiled clockwork, with Herndon and McEntire furiously facing off on the drum kits and rotating between different instruments while Bitney, Parker and McCombs worked as the core, creating a ADHD inspired miasma of marching bass, vacillating guitar licks and idiosyncratic synths. These men were post-rock eminence and they knew it, playing with a virtuosity and confidence despite clenched jaws and furrowed brows.

The venue however, was less than ideal as small size and overcompensating sound systems meant that much subtlety and space was lost. The sibilance was tinnitus-inducing and  the sounds were starting to move from cerebral to merely being noise, although I guess one could say that least it was an intimate affair.

Photo credits:  Jared Ryan Reynolds


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