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.