Tortoise | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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When you hear the word "supergroup" you probably think of aging rock stars, flabby, ego-bloated performances, and exorbitant ticket prices. If so, you should probably check out Tortoise, a kind of indie-rock supergroup whose intriguing music incorporates subtlety, understatement, and unassuming sophistication. Dan Bitney, John Herndon, John McEntire, Doug McCombs, Bundy K. Brown, and Brad Wood--whose resumes include stints with Eleventh Dream Day, Shrimp Boat, Bastro, Tar Babies, Poster Children, Gastr del Sol, and Precious Wax Drippings--rely on tightly woven ensemble playing rather than spotlighted solo flights; their eponymous debut LP on Thrill Jockey is made up of ten rather quiet instrumentals whose beauty emerges slowly and gradually. Stylistically the band stakes out some wide turf: "Onions Wrapped in Rubber" is a soft dub that throws in a little Lee "Scratch" Perry and a little Can; "Flyrod" is a bit of free-form introspective guitar tangle; and "Ry Cooder" features an extended, jazzy vibraphone workout. But Tortoise is most effective on tunes like "Tin Cans & Twine" and "Spiderwebbed," where a swelling counterpoint of melodic bass grooves is languidly fleshed out with percussion, guitar fills, and sprinkles of organ to create warm, low-key excursions somewhere between rock, funk, and jazz. Though the indie-rock world can be just as self-indulgent as its mainstream counterpart, Tortoise's thoughtful, self-effacing music is one of the things that makes it worth exploring. Saturday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 525-6620.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Brad Miller.

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