The last time I saw Tindersticks, on their small tour promoting their collected soundtracks (they have composed six original scores) for French auteur Claire Denis, a bout of laryngitis resulted in frontman Stuart A. Staples cutting the night short halfway through the show. What should have been an amazing evening was merely pretty good.
So when the Nottingham-based band announced a short tour to promote Across Six Leap Years, an album to mark 21 years of existence, containing reworked versions of tunes from across their back catalog, it was surely not a show to be missed. Staple’s core group, augmented by both strings and brass, provide a set of players well able to conjure up the widescreen richness of the bands’ sound, as well as the subtle chiaroscuro that makes Tindersticks records so transporting.
The band played two sets with no support act. Both sets, as expected, drew heavily on Across Six Leap Years, coupled with a good chunk of 2012’s The Something Rain, with the odd surprise tune thrown in.
“Marseille Sunshine” was an early show-stopper, the song’s metallic drone exerting a weird force field across the hall as Staples, hunched in his chair, seemed to be reaching deep into his soul. “Hushabye Mountain,” originally from the 1968 film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” was a curveball, but a good one, the band giving it a tense and claustrophobic treatment.
London’s Barbican Centre was a fitting venue to see this band perform live. The building’s brutalist exterior hides a cultural centre of sophistication and renown. Tindersticks’ music more often than not has a similarly deceptive exterior, a gnarled, jaded carapace which nevertheless shelters tenderness and deep emotion.
And, although Barbican was a seated venue, there was none of the loss of atmosphere you sometimes get from seeing seated shows. The crowd, deeply focused as the band played, erupted into massed hooting and hollering after each song in a very un-British show of appreciation.
The second set was where the performance really took off. “Show Me Everything” was pure live evil, all throbbing bass and pounded toms, heightening Staple’s threatening growl. “This Fire of Autumn” channeled a particularly mid-1970’s British tawdriness, an impression heightened by the presence of twin keyboardists David Boulter and Terry Edwards. Grey-suited, they resembled bouncers in a Soho clip joint.
There were lighter moments. “Sometimes It Hurts” was a positively jaunty country rock number. “Can We Start Again?” matched Staples’ testifying with Gina Foster’s supporting vocals, accompanied by a southern-soul style mix of clean guitar, big drums and horns.
It was an astonishing show, intense, exhausting yet uplifting and euphoric. The moment it finished, I was desperate to experience it all over again. Here’s to another 21 years for a British band that’s released multiple successful albums and is still touring internationally (there a couple more dates left, in Spain, which you can see here).