Not the (Mc)Entire Tortoise

A disappointing performance by Tortoise drummer John McEntire, mourns Martin Longley.

John McEntire/Schneider Kacirek
The Tin
November 18th

The Chicagoan drummer John McEntire is most familiar as a member of Tortoise, and to a lesser extent, The Sea And Cake. Dusseldorf electronicist Stefan Schneider is a founder member of Kreidler and To Rococo Rot. Percussionist Sven Kacirek (from Hamburg) is primarily known (or unknown, to most) for his solo work. Packaged together for a tour, this combination of players promised a peachy teaming.

It transpired that, on this first UK date of three, in Coventry, they’d already spontaneously decided to cross the borders between McEntire’s solo set and the other pair’s duo opening performance, all three banding together to close out the evening. But first, Schneider Kacirek opened, delivering such an inspirational sequence of sounds that anything to follow was destined to have difficulty attaining similar levels.

Kacirek’s stripped kit used one flat drumhead as a base for attaching a metal plate, or a ceramic saucer, his snare clicked sparsely, bass drum equally taciturn, only bumping at severely strategic moments, a champagne-bottle shaped plastic shaker employed like a skeleton’s heartbeat, brush-sticks faintly hissing. Meanwhile, he was spiderwebbing with electronic effects, in-between his clipped, implied beats.

Schneider tweaked the controls on his tiny cluster of boxes, other hand held aloft expressively, like that of a blues harmonica-blower. Some of his sounds bled into the percussion realm, others lumbered low, as disembodied bass stomach-rumble. His forest of cycling repeats sometimes paused, to savour the cricket-susurrus. This duo’s sensitivity to mechanoid minimalist funkin’ was astounding, their sonic gaps being an important element in the cranial dance.

It looked like McEntire was just about to play, but the sound desk captain hadn’t turned off the background music. Then it suddenly became apparent that the distant, muffled and dated electronic soundtrack was actually emanating from the sticksman’s laptop. When sitting close to the stage, these sounds were strangely frontally-placed once McEntire’s drumming launched.

Following on from the entire-body experience of Schneider’s electronics, McEntire’s backing (for that was the ultimate character) was very poor in quality, taste and technical fluency. His drumming wasn’t sonically integrated on the same level as the laptop content, and his actual stick-work was too loud, too simple and sometimes prey to slippages of timing, slowing down or speeding up. It would be interesting to imagine how McEntire’s performance would have sounded if it had stood alone, but in this context it made for a radical slump.

When all three players convened for the final set, McEntire was forced into subtlety, sounding much better, as if he was entirely used to being part of a band, rather than shouldering the burden alone. Kacirek concentrated on small marimba, and a third type of music emerged, with only Schneider staying steady in his all-evening approach. This was certainly a relief after the surprising disappointment of McEntire’s solo spell.

Pic: Sasa Huzjak