It is really impossible to accurately put the experience of seeing Tortoise live into words. Yes, the band’s best moments may have come in the ’90s when they appeared out of nowhere to revolutionize indie rock. Before Tortoise was anyone making music that combined so many disparate elements? Jazz, Krautrock, strange time signatures and ambient all filtered and swirled through one tight lens, spilling out on masterpieces like TNT and Millions Now Living Will Never Die.

Though the band’s ’00s output is equally taut, the infiltration of similar acts like the Olivia Tremor Control and Explosions of the Sky may have taken the shine from efforts like It’s All Around You and The Brave and the Bold. However, after a three year lay-off, 2009’s Beacons of Ancestorship proved there was still life in the band.

Just ask the sold out crowd that stuffed into Portland’s Doug Fir to stand through not one song they could sing along with. Instead, they witnessed the members of Tortoise become one living and breathing organism, each a vital part keeping the beast alive.

Does Tortoise really play indie rock? There is a blur there, an element in the instrumentation where one member can blast off on a fantastic solo journey and yet somehow return and click in at the exact precise moment necessary. Could this be jazz instead? A jazz ensemble where members trade instruments and songs change from a gentle marimba chime to lunging, powerful bassline in the matter of moments?

But this is more than jazz and indie rock. Tortoise is one of the progenitors of the twitchy, electro pocket symphonies that kids are composing on computers using found sounds and software. Yet, that night, Tortoise did it live. Vocals? Who needs vocals? Not on this journey that took us over icy soundscapes to dangerous percussion where even two drummers would play together, meeting in the middle of some fantastical rhythm.

What made the evening for me was the joy. As the men of Tortoise played through one shifting piece after another, the joy of being together, being on that stage and making music together superseded all else.

As the show ended, the band finally spoke, thanking us for coming out and breaking the spell. They didn’t need to speak at all. The previous 90 minutes did plenty of talking without any vocals at all.

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