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Thrill Jockey’s 20th Anniversary Featuring Tortoise

Post-rockers celebrate label in Baltimore

Tortoise performs in Baltimore to celebrate Thrill Jockey’s 20th anniversary; September 2012. (L-R: Doug McCombs, John McEntire, Dan Bitney, Jeff Parker. Not pictured: John Herndon.)

Over the past two decades, the Chicago-based indie label Thrill Jockey has built a reputation for releasing music that is esoteric yet substantial. Sift through its catalog and you’ll find no real through-lines except quality and a certain curatorial hipness. The label’s lengthy roster includes everything from Liturgy’s black metal through the stagy synthpop of Future Islands, the Appalachian reels of the Black Twig Pickers, and plenty from the Windy City jazz avant-garde: Fred Anderson, Hamid Drake, Bill Dixon, Rob Mazurek and Nicole Mitchell all have Thrill Jockey projects in their discographies.

The label is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a series of showcase-style concerts, including one held on Thursday night (Sept. 13) in Baltimore, a rustbelt city whose earnest DIY scene has been good to Thrill Jockey-and vice versa. The show took place at Rams Head Live!, a well-appointed rock club in a touristy section of town, and the cavernous room served its purpose even if it dwarfed a solid turnout. Thrill Jockey’s avant-jazz history per se didn’t figure into this show, but the label’s relationship with jazz-leaning instrumental music certainly did. That included the Baltimore-based electronic duo Matmos (here extended to a quartet), whose Eastern opener treaded on Impulse! territory, and Tortoise, label veterans and progenitors of the wordless genre called “post-rock.”

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