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Monday, September 8, 2008

CONCERT REVIEW – Tortoise at the 2008 Guelph Jazz Fest – River Run Centre 09/06/08

It didn’t surprise me when I learned that Tortoise would be headlining Saturday evenings’ presentation of the 2008 Guelph Jazz Festival. In fact, I thought it was an entirely appropriate choice. Make no mistake, this Chicago five-piece is not a jazz outfit, nor do they perform under this pretense. Rather, like the best jazz music ‘their’ craft is marked though by formidable precision playing and a certain sense of improvisation. For that reason I found them to be the perfect fit for this year’s edition of the festival. Their unique brand of ‘post-rock’ fitting in very well with the avant-garde nature of so many performers billed this year.

I have seen Tortoise in concert over ten years ago at a small club in London and although the experience was a good one Saturday’s performance was easily distinguished by the location of the event itself. Instead of a small cramped, club stage the band set up on the expansive River Run Centre stage. The acoustics therein were nothing short of phenomenal and the band was clearly much better able to stretch out and play. Ten years has also afforded them ample time to hone their musicians’ craft. The setlist accurately reflecting their diverse canon with a couple new numbers thrown in for good measure. Still largely a percussive outfit, the band were a perfect counterpart for the splendid acoustics of the River Run Centre.

The ninety minute performance including well deserved encores was punctuated by the effective use of on screen visuals as the band performed. I had never attended an event at the River Run Centre and I have to admit I was really blown away by its expansive and extremely relaxed nature. Trust me, legroom and a comfortable chair can go a long way in one’s enjoyment of a concert. Even the band members (particularly the normally stoic John McEntire) seemed to really enjoy themselves in this presentation. Festival organizers deserve kudos for this extraordinarily fine show. An impeccable band selection to say the least, I could not have enjoyed it more.

Earlier in the day I was able to also take in the music of New York’s Burnt Sugar in the festival tent in downtown Guelph. Band leader Greg Tate miraculously managed to cram a dozen musicians onto the tent's tiny stage to conduct a diverse set that ranged from free-form improvisation to old-school funk jam. And man, it could not have sounded better!

All in all a very pleasant Saturday of terrific music; I’ll certainly be looking forward to next year’s edition of the Guelph Jazz Festival. From even my limited, single day perspective this one was a great success.

Tortoise - John Herndon (Left), Jeff Parker, Doug McCombs, John McEntire and Dan Bitney


1978cp said...

Was also at this show and at the show you mentioned in London 10 years back as well as one in Toronto in between. This was by far the best. In fact, it was one of the best live shows I've ever witnessed, visually and acoustically. The venue is a big part of that. I'm lucky enough to be getting married there this week and will be bragging that I got to share a venue with Tortoise. Nice review.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Don't you love it when the stars align, and you get an incredible band in a fabulous venue? This certainly sounds like it was one of THE shows of the year.

I missed Tortoise, sadly, when they played the folk fest here a few years ago, but I did win one of their cds and I'm very happy to have it in my collection.

Lovely review!

Sean Wraight said...

1978cp - That is too cool. You should have considered your wedding for that evening. You would have had a built in band to accompany the ceremony.

In all seriousness, best of luck with that. The venue is beautiful. It sure beat seeing them at the Embassy so many years ago.


Barbara - It really was a terrific show driven largely by its environment. Quite simply, it looked and sounded impeccable. Show of the year indeed. I really did enjoy it. Frankly the place reminded me a little of Massey Hall just a lot more comfortable.

Definitely check out the band if they come through Calgary. A talented group of individuals there.

Take care,