Matmos, Future Islands, and Tortoise at Thrill Jockey’s 20th anniversary concert at Webster Hall last night. Matmos, whose set I only caught for a few minutes, were fun and exuberant — for one song, Drew Daniel turned on some Whitehouse-ish vocal distortion and indulged his inner noise guy, before the song inverted itself into a gorgeous, clicking pulse with live drums and precise guitar. I was definitely disappointed not to have seen more of them.
Future Islands, whom I hadn’t heard of before, got a (surprisingly) huge response from the audience. Frontman Samuel Herring has a bizarre vocal style, alternating a heavily theatrical, vaguely archaic-sounding enunciation with raspy death growls that sounded like a slightly more cookie monster’d version of Wu Lyf’s expressionistic roars. It wasn’t the sort of thing I would have imagined would ignite such a Dionysian response — amidst a crowd of (mostly-teenage) dancers, one kid poured a full beer on his mosher mop and got a little pit going. I didn’t think Future Islands were deserving of the enthusiasm. Their songs, which tended to lock into a single loop at a ponderous tempo, never offered development or catharsis proportionate with Herring’s exuberant stage moves.
I was perversely glad that so many people left after their set, though, so I could get up front to see one of my all-time favourite bands. Tortoise were incredible. They’re impressive on a purely technical level — there was gratuitous instrument-swapping, with every member playing bass at some point — but their songs are especially emotionally thrilling in the live context. They feel more joyous, physical, and human when stripped of the heavy, dubby postproduction, which sometimes makes their music feel arid and austere. Though I was disappointed that their set only featured a few dual-drumming bangers, it was still fantastic to see Tortoise’s precise, clever music rendered with such verve.