Broken Social Scene have been part of two rather extraordinary shows for me this year – firstly supporting the mighty Pavement on their fund raising trek around the world, in part for Bob Nastanovich to reduce his gambling debts, and then this show with remarkable Tortoise; more of them anon.
But before all that, a moment of pure band-fan-groupie joy. Young @binmouth and I were enjoying a swift Thai meal in Taste of Siam across the way from Koko when the Peeblemeister spotted Kevin Drew eating alone behind us. Coming to leave Mr P hailed him as he passed and pressed a copy of the @bravobravebats Red EP into his hand. What a nice chap he is, a longer than hoped for chat about the Brixton Pavement show,
theBirmingham gig we went to with @IDSupremo, the 2005 show with the bust collar bone, and then a cheesy photo opp courtesy of @binmouth. Mr Drew looked exhausted, long months of touring, sleeping badly and all. This was to be the last London show for a long, long time he said, something he reiterated later on stage, and off he popped to get his head down for a bit.
Later, safely ensconced in a right hand balcony space in Koko, with a generous view, we waited for Tortoise to take the stage at 7.45 as planned and play the advertised one hour of astonishing music. Tortoise’s music came onto my horizon quite a few years ago now, attracted first by the music’s cerebral qualities as much as its musical ones; the clear jazz provenance of much of the rhythmic roots and the ways of building tracks up from simple beginnings to complex and multifaceted final results.
Frankly I never thought that I would get to see them play live and so this was an un-missable opportunity. Live, the music takes on an even harder, uncompromisingly experimental edge, on record sometimes it can be quite a soothing affair. All five are accomplished musicians, all able to switch seamlessly between percussion, keys and guitars, but the revelation for me was the quality of the percussion – drums especially but also the glockenspiels (both traditional and electronic). The sections with both drums kits going were remarkable and exhilarating. It’s precisely the sort of music that Mrs H-C loathes and finds tedious, but for me it is genuinely enthralling and absorbing – the precision and accuracy, the complexity. They have an ability to take several, sometimes contradictory rhythms and melodies, build them together and create something totally new, with a direction and purpose all of its own. I find myself either having to focus on one specific area and appreciate that, or else give myself over to the combined force of the whole, letting it crash over me… music by total immersion. Outstanding.
BSS took their places behind the rows of mics and acres of guitar effects pedals around 9.15 or so as planned. They played for about a full two hours, way past the official curfew, not leaving at the ‘end’ but carrying on into what would have been the encores, correctly assuming that no-one was interested in the leave-shout&scream-return ‘bullshit’ as Mr Drew surmised. With Mr John MacEntire, Tortoise band member and producer of Forgiveness Rock Record on additional drumming duty, BSS numbered 11 at one moment, a glorious confection of sound and energy. The set was similar in many respects to that of the Birmingham show earlier this year – much of the Forgiveness album but with welcome returns from other albums, especially the eponymous one – Shoreline, Fire-eyed Boy, Super-connected and so on.
BSS are wonderful live and they just didn’t seem to want to go. Mr Drew decided to go crowd surfing up to the sound desk and back (is that a regular occurrence or just last night?) The extended leave got longer and longer, they didn’t seem sure when to end it. Big thanks to the crowd felt like a combination of genuine appreciation of the reception (and maybe how the UK has embraced BSS?) but also tasted like a farewell. Given the time it takes to produce material from such a diverse collective (5 years between the last two BSS albums), as well as the cost and complexity of touring such a band, with none of them getting any younger (although they’re not exactly in their dotage), you get to wondering how realistic it is to expect to see them like this again.
The Times reviewed the first of the two nights at Koko and the reviewer’s comments suggested a band reaching its peak and the expectation of another push to establish itself. I am not at all sure that this is how BSS think. I don’t see them as aspiring to rock stardom, more engrained is the sense of experimentation and creativity (if Tortoise are ‘heroes’ of theirs, what else could they be driven by?), perhaps there might even be a fear of what you lose when you start to ‘mainstream’?
It was an exciting, uplifting show, joyous and alive but underpinned by a lurking sense of sadness; a sense that this might not be au revoir but good bye.
Pix: courtesy of @binmouth
There is live video of Tortoise set at Wercher Live set