it's the fans that make or break bands

Tindersticks – Barbican Centre

Barbican Centre
7.0 10

A sublime evening with one of the greatest bands from the past 20 years.

It is with ever increasing astonishment and admiration that Tindersticks can continue to sell-out such amazing venues (best acoustics in London by far) here and across Europe, and yet I find it harder and harder to come up with a condensed way of describing their sound and all it’s intricacies to people who’ve yet to be converted. My thoughts focus orchestral soul, and not the horrendously generic ‘indie rock’ which I read in a free daily paper on the train…

The band, despite losing key personnel, relocating, inevitable solo records and actually breaking up have clearly evolved and benefited from working on so many film scores and separate projects; within the music there’s greater space to breathe and the instruments are beautifully played, fully complementing one other in terms of timing and clarity. There are moments of sheer beauty,  you can hear a pin drop in the quieter moments and when the strings and brass swell it sends all the hairs up on the back of the neck as only they can. Several backing vocals add to Stuart Staples voice, which has grown richer and even deeper with age. The soft, rich croon can also sound menacing which is indeed a rare thing (see Nick Cave for restraint and anger in equal measures). Staples also does loss and frustration better than anyone. You can believe in him. You are on his side.

Tonight is billed as ‘Across six leap years’ which is essentially a reference to 20 years since their eponymous début record (an accompanying disc of re-recorded tracks is out now). Since their self-titled album in 1993 they’ve released another 8 studio albums, several live cuts and at least half a dozen soundtracks to the films of Claire Denis. Their sound grows from record to record, and moves from the whispered and  intimate to the cacophonous in an instant.

Tonight they play two sets –  the first, starts atmospherically with ‘Tricklin’ and also featuring ‘She’s gone’. Stuart Staples sits throughout the opening 8 songs whilst the band remain in the shadows and largely restrained and understated;  the strings are allowed room to build and swell unimpeded and the trumpets of  long-time collaborator, Terry Edwards, clearly shine through, all accompanying Staples soft baritone perfectly. It is truly wonderful to hear and clearly their arrangers for both strings and brass have worked with the acoustics in terms of positioning and amplification (which for this band is minimal).

There’s a brief (15 minute) interlude and the band consisting of Staples, David Boulter and Neil Fraser from the original core of 6, plus Dan McKinna and Earl Harvin (very dapper on drums) come back on for the main set. The stage is filled with the string section as well as the horns, led by Edwards. We are treated to another 16 tracks from across their entire back catalogue, with highlights being ‘Show me everything’ from last years’ ‘The something rain’, ‘My oblivion’ from 2003’s ‘Waiting for the moon’ (which has the grown-ups weeping into their drinks – it really is that emotional a song) and ‘A night in’ from the 2nd (also eponomously-titled) lp which is both dark and brooding and yet wonderfully bold in it’s composition, with a slow, nagging bassline. The band in full flow resemble an orchestra; they are playing soul music as it should be played. It still remains understated and non-theatrical, but it’s from the heart, from the soul and htis makes all the difference. The make you smile and they make you cry, they are that good.

There’s two encores (final song ‘Patchwork’ from their début ‘Tindersticks’ is simply beautiful…..the ending lines linger like smoke, ‘the blue’s a swirling ocean, the green the ambition, the red is the guilt….there’s a lot of red. The yellow is my sunshine, it comes out on the odd occasion…barely enough to keep you around.’  Everyone on stage is introduced to the audience and a long standing ovation spontaneously with cheering erupts at the end. The band look genuinely thrilled. It has been an stunning and emotional experience tonight – The sheer pleasure of witnessing such an incredible band (ensemble would be more appropriate) at the height of the powers, 20 years into their career…..I only hope there’s another 20 years as I can’t wait to see which direction they go in next.


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