Tortoise at the Empty Bottle | Music review + photos

Entering their twenty-second year as a band, the members of Tortoise—each an accomplished musician in their own right—have the uncanny ability to turn in a slightly loose set and make it sound like an exceedingly tight performance. Such was the case at Tuesday night's sold-out, one-off gig at the Empty Bottle, which found the group delivering a career-spanning assemblage of tracks.

Weaving between two drum sets, a pair of marimbas as well as an assortment of keyboards and guitars, the quintet found their places on the already crowded stage and burst into the urgent harpsichord stabs of "Blackjack." Perched behind a Minimoog Voyager, John Herndon led the group through the shifting grooves of "High Class Slim Came Floatin' In" and "Prepare Your Coffin," a pair of synth-heavy tracks from the 2009 release Beacons of Ancestorship. More subdued moments such as "Along the Banks of Rivers" showcased the twisting, jazz-informed riffs of guitarist Jeff Parker. Near the main set's conclusion, a rendition of TNT stand-out "In Sarah, Mencken, Christ And Beethoven There Were Women And Men" impressed with its deceptively complex rhythms emanating from dual drum kits, providing the foundation for its consistently reserved melodies.

Returning to the stage, the group eased into the grandiose, marimba-driven refrains of "Salt The Skies." The brash opening strains of "Seneca" quickly settled into a stuttering cadence before giving way to the repetitive yet mesmerizing expanse of "Charteroak Foundation." Closing with "Dot/Eyes" and its noise-ridden squall, the band took a moment to indulge in the decidedly abstract end of their post-rock spectrum.

While there was no hint of new material, the evening stood as a rigorous showcase of the group's varied output. True to their namesake, the perpetually occupied ensemble has remained unhurried in their production, maintaining spans of several years between releases. Shows like this one are a welcome fix, but moreover, they serve as reminder of how nice it would be to hear from Tortoise a bit more often.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)