Tindersticks, Vienna Konzerthaus, 9 March 2016

My first Tindersticks concert in four years, and it was a delight to spend another evening in the presence of a group who have meant so much to me over the years. I must have seen them dozens of times by now, in both their pre- and post-split incarnations, and their concerts have always been emotionally draining affairs laced with romance, heartbreak and regret. This was certainly the case tonight, as the group responded beautifully to the splendour of the Konzerthaus with a set drawn heavily from their new album The Waiting Room.

Like its three post-split predecessors, The Waiting Room is no match for the six exquisite records the group made when Dickon Hinchcliffe’s haunting string arrangements loomed large over everything they did (for some more thoughts on the split, see my review of the 2012 Radiokulturhaus concert). But the record has more than enough heart-stoppingly tender moments to make it a worthy addition to the Tindersticks canon. And “Hey Lucinda”, an old song recorded before the tragic death of its co-vocalist Lhasa de Sela, immediately takes its rightful place alongside “Travelling Light”, “Buried Bones” and “Sometimes It Hurts” as one of the classic Tindersticks duets.

Like that of his spiritual forebear Leonard Cohen, Stuart Staples’ voice seems to be getting deeper and richer with age. (He no longer lights up a cigarette onstage, although I’m unclear if that’s due to health and safety regulations or simply because he’s given up.) When he sings it holds you rapt, his eyes flickering as his gorgeous velvety croon threads its way through his broken, sorrowful words. There are few words spoken between songs, but the occasional smile breaks across his face as he takes in the audience’s fervent response or shares a warm moment with the rest of the group.

With Terry Edwards’ brass arrangements absent this time round, the instrumentation for the concert was more stripped-down than usual – a reflection of the mostly subdued nature of the new album. Neil Fraser’s guitar assumed greater prominence as a result, his clever and restrained use of effects adding rich colour to songs like “Medicine” and “A Night So Still”. David Boulter’s radiant keyboard and organ parts further fleshed out the chamber music sound, while drummer Earl Harvin was a revelation. His stickwork effortlessly fluent and vigorous, Harvin added a note of real menace and foreboding to the shadowy momentum of “We Are Dreamers”.

It’s very tempting, for a long-time fan like me, to grouch about the near-total absence of older songs from the setlist, with only “She’s Gone” and “Sleepy Song” from the epochal second album showing up, nothing from the first, nothing from Curtains or Simple Pleasure, and so on. But one can hardly blame Staples for focusing on songs recorded by the current incarnation of the group. Besides, I was ready to forgive him anything from the moment the band launched into “Sometimes It Hurts” as the first encore. In its recorded version with Lhasa de Sela, this has gradually become not only my favourite Tindersticks song, but also probably my favourite song of all time, so to hear it tonight was an intensely moving moment for me – one of many precious gifts from this most remarkable, most passionate of bands.

Lubomyr Melnyk & Fennesz, Vienna Radiokulturhaus, 31 January 2016

Another of my sadly rare visits to one of my favourite venues in Vienna, the Radiokulturhaus. The comfort, intimate size and excellent acoustics of this space all combine to make attending concerts there a pleasure, while the programming is also adventurous enough to make it a fairly safe bet that you’re going to see someone interesting. Such was certainly the case here, as guitar and laptop wizard Fennesz trod the boards ahead of Ukrainian pianist and composer Lubomyr Melnyk. The concert was sold out, no doubt mostly on the basis of Melnyk’s burgeoning reputation as the fastest pianist in the world (19½ notes per second, fact fans), but also in part because it was part of a festival promoted by a sugary soft drinks manufacturer whose logo was displayed prominently on the stage.

The majority of the capacity audience were certainly there to see Melnyk play what I believe was only his second concert in Vienna, but as far as I was concerned Fennesz was the principal draw. The last time I tried to catch him was on my birthday last July at Karlskirche; I was touched that he’d arranged such a generous present for me, but when I went to get tickets the length of the queue, snaking right the way around Karlsplatz, made me abandon the idea fairly quickly. No such disappointment this time, as Fennesz played a riveting, albeit much too short (only 30 minutes) set that was rich in dynamic shifts and quicksilver atmospheres. Those who contend that Fennesz’s concerts all sound the same probably aren’t paying close enough attention, since on this occasion the maestro’s silvery guitar riffs assumed a stature far mightier than I had heard before, while the beats or traces of beats that hovered with gossamer elegance around the stage were an intriguing move away from art-house formalism and towards a more bass-driven environment.

All too soon Fennesz was gone, giving way to an unannounced performance by Latvian singer Mionia. I took this unwelcome intervention as an opportunity to get some fresh air outside, and retook my seat in time for Melnyk’s recital. But there was to be no getting away from Mionia, who joined the pianist later on as vocalist for the sentimental song “I Love You”.

As for Melnyk himself, I was pretty underwhelmed for the most part. His heavily touted language of “continuous music” never transcends the remarkable virtuosity with which it is delivered, and remains fatally unemotive and uninvolving. Consisting largely of note clusters played with mind-numbing repetition that coalesce into clouds of treacly harmony, it lacks both the emotional heft and the conceptual rigour of Philip Glass or Michael Nyman, both of whom it occasionally brings to mind.

Melnyk is an engaging, yet somewhat rambling speaker. His lengthy introductions to each piece bring valuable context and insight to his work, but unfortunately tend to outstay their welcome. Much the same could be said for the work itself, whose durational quality has the potential to make considerable psychological impact on the listener, but which ends up dissipating into what sounds very much like New Age mysticism. There was nothing particularly mystical, though, about the way Melnyk hastened to the foyer after the concert to flog his extensive catalogue of self-produced CDs.