Tortoise / Squarepusher: London Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Post-rock ramblings from Tortoise outdone by Squarepusher's sonic assault...

The post-rock massive is out in force tonight, that’s for sure. Barring the All Tomorrow’s Parties extravaganza a few months ago, this is the first headline set on British shores from Chicago instrumental experimentalists Tortoise for over two years, and as such a sell-out crowd is par for the course.

However, generous chaps that they are, the ‘toise are treating their fans well and providing them with some of the most hair-raising support acts around. Take the chunky, psychedelic wash of Mike Ladd and his erstwhile Infesticons for example, providing a mind-bending sound-track to the ceaseless waft of purple marijuana smoke smothering the faithful.

Nothing, however, can quite prepare us for Squarepusher. With his best album for years (the forthcoming ‘Go Plastic’) in the bag, it’s a scarifyingly noisy assault that the bearded one launches from his unspeakable sub-conscious. Hunched over equipment at the back of the stage, his face is barely visible through the slipstream of strobes and the disorienting, high-speed psychedelic rush of this particularly nerve-scraping strain of 200bpm drum’n’bass. All you can see is a demonic, 12ft shadow stretched across the blank video screen, twitching as he unleashes the next head-spinning volley. It’s a wickedly appropriate image.

All of which leaves the crowd slightly in shock, and perhaps more than ever in need of Tortoise‘s soothingly precise nerve balm. It is, predictably, a ‘Standards’ heavy set, but with such great source material, you know that disappointment is never really an option. Indeed, whereas there was some (perhaps justified) criticism that ‘Standards’ was a fairly cold selection of tracks, live interpretations like opener ‘Seneca’ are given a living, breathing warmth that increases their appeal ten-fold.

When old classics like the rumbling ‘The Taut and The Tame’ and the delicate, elegantly crafted ‘Djed’ are unvealed to a rapturous reception, you know that those “math-rock” taunts only begin to scrape the surface of this band’s depth. It’s scientifically precise, don’t mis-understand, but, especially given the chance to live and breathe in a setting like tonight, the material has a plangent, gently powerful emotional sting that is pretty hard to resist.

John Hall