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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Lanois, Tortoise come out of their shell

October 24, 2005|Dean Kuipers | Special to The Times

For all the quiet introspection of his new album, "Belladonna," mega-producer and ambient-music master Daniel Lanois came to the Avalon Hollywood on Saturday with something loud to say. In an exuberant collaboration with Chicago post-rock instrumentalist group Tortoise, Lanois swung from skronk-fusion guitar leads to towering, distorted pedal-steel landscapes to coffeehouse ballads to rock spiritualism, singing, chopping at his guitar and keeping the energy way out front.

Even songs from the new album were transformed -- "Frozen," for example, is a fascinating union of a deft dub reggae beat by drum phenom Brian Blade and Lanois' darkly psychedelic pedal steel. With Tortoise, however, it got what Lanois called a "greasy, punky" take, making what was a haunted meander into an urgent statement.

It's not what one might expect from the man who made the groundbreaking ambient work "Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks" with Brian Eno in 1983. But Lanois has also produced U2, Bob Dylan and other varied artists. Saturday's show also demonstrated that he's still a Canadian balladeer as he focused the central part of the show on singer-songwriter works such as "Caledonia" and "The Maker," sometimes in French.

But he kept the electric guitar hot to the touch, and even when playing solo he'd slash at it between verses, drawing out the evocative, distorted-and-delayed peals of noise -- immediately reminiscent of U2's the Edge -- that kept grabbing the audience by the throat.

Tortoise, whose opening set turned into a wonderful runaway train of jazz-rock explosions that sometimes conjured the Mahavishnu Orchestra, seemed only too happy to explore Lanois' more extroverted persona.

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