Sometimes things go wrong. The best laid plans and organisation with all the right elements in place for a good time can be rudely scuppered by some faulty equipment. And so it was with Tortoise tonight - possibly the smallest venue that Tortoise could physically cram into, this was a rare up-close and intimate gig promoted by All Tomorrow's Parties (the ONLY promoters in the world endorsed by Steve Albini, fact fans). I'm sure Tortoise did some thorough sound-checks, but you can't cover every eventuality, and about 8 bars into the first number Tortoise ground to a halt as Jeff Parker's guitar rig stopped working. After another false start the band asked for the lights to go up, and the up-close nature of the gig revealed some very concerned faces on stage. I'd imagine that a band like Tortoise rely quite heavily on being able to call up the sounds they need from their equipment, and having one essential element missing would make it impossible to continue, and you could see how gutted the band looked - they'd clearly been looking forward to this one.
After about 20 minutes they managed to get started properly, but you could sense the band had been affected by the whole thing. To be perfectly frank, the first couple of numbers were pretty shaky - way looser than the music required, with the band seeming to struggle to keep up with their own compositions. Even the sparkling new track High Class Slim Came Floatin' In didn't quite hit the spot, and you could still make out furrowed brows on stage. However, Tortoise didn't give up, and about 20 minutes into the set they started to play a selection of tracks from TNT and It's All Around You - at which point you could practically see (and certainly hear) the band relax. From then on it went much more smoothly - the sound was clear and the musicians starting to enjoy themselves. They cherry-picked from a fine back catalogue and by the end of the set seemed to have won their mood back. Leaving the stage with apologetic gestures, the band seemed reluctant to be called back onstage for more, but the crowd demanded a return and back they came.
First encore was Yinxianghechengqi (hurrah for cut 'n' paste text editors) the punkiest track Tortoise have, and they seemed to really enjoy this one. Called back onstage for a third time, the band seemed truly happy and treated us to more vintage classics including I Set My Face To The Hillside. Everyone left happy, but I don't think this was the best performance the band had ever given - the first half of the set had them on the back foot the whole way, which is a shame as this was where the newer material was featured. Still, good to see a band persisting in the face of adversity.