Live: Zoning Out With Tortoise at the Bang on a Can Marathon


The Bang on a Can Marathon
World Financial Center Winter Garden
Sunday, May 31

Verily, this fest has scaled back somewhat in recent years — consider 2007’s fairly insane 26-hour affair, wherein I emerged, groggy and disoriented, from the Winter Garden at around 4:30 a.m., just in time to see some dude nonchalantly pissing into the Hudson. This year’s totally free, totally uninhibited carnival of new/classical/experimental music was a relatively demure 12 hours, noon to midnight. “How many of you have been here since noon today?” asked one of MCs at roundabouts 11:30 p.m., just before Tortoise took the stage. Way more whoops than I’d expected. Tired, frail whoops, but whoops nonetheless.

The Marathon, which officially kicks off the summer’s indispensable River to River Festival, is a splendid way to mark the change in season; the hugeness of its audience (all sprawled out on the marble beneath the palm trees, the skylight, the general space-age airport/food court vibe) is awful heartening given the gleeful weirdness of much of its music. Even just dipping in for the last two hours, you got the powerhouse Bang on a Can Orchestra performing both a lovely, somnolent new piece from powerhouse Chinese Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakomoto (himself chipping in a stately solo-piano intro) and a tremendously noisy, clattering version of Steve Martland’s Horses of Instruction. Both were treated reverently by the masses, only occasional footsteps and the rustles of patrons quietly paging through the program breaking the respectful silence.

Of course, each Marathon sneaks in a few rock-world ringers: This year, Tortoise did the honors. A fine choice, in that you could deign to listen very very intently to their ambient, liquid post-rock jams, or zone out and not pay much attention at all. Same effect: a sort of intellectual pleasantness. They tossed out a bunch from their new Beacons of Ancestorship, starting with the delicately schizo mini-suite “High Class Slim Came Floating In” and continuing on with the noir-ish, electric-guitar-led near-blues “The Fall of Seven Diamonds Plus One,” the sort of thing Bill Frisell, who’d stop by the Marathon earlier in the day, might get up to. Made me wish I’d been around to see him.