“What are you smiling at?” Mark asks as we head to Colston Hall’s bar during the interval of this eagerly awaited Tindersticks’ concert.
“I’m in a state of bliss,” I reply, feeling as though I’m gliding down the concourse.
We’ve just been treated to eight tracks from the band’s back-catalogue, a mix of songs that displays fully the pureness and clarity of Tindersticks’ music as they prepare their audience for the main event, a live playing of their newest album ‘The Waiting Room.’ Tindersticks are their own warm up act, you see: there is no support band. We discuss why this may be. Is it because they have no contemporaries – they are stand alone, unique? Perhaps no-one would be brave/good enough for such a task, not up to the job? Past tours indicate that none of this is true and it’s simply the nature of this particular show that allows them to hold the spotlight alone but we are happy to be thrown bang into a sound that wraps you up and holds onto you for as long as you can bare.
At home, we’ve enjoyed many Tindersticks’ tracks, marvelled at Stuart Staples’ effortless vocals, heartbreaking lyrics, a raspy, soulful voice that has no comparison, but we weren’t fully prepared for the acoustics of the Colston Hall. You can bet that the band was though – these guys are perfectionists, they’d have done their research, and the venue suits them well (knowing about the other places they play all over Europe, we were a little perplexed, yet tremendously glad, that they had chosen to come here. We now understand). Neither were we ready for the reality of experiencing a band that is so solidly together. At times, such as in ‘Medicine’, it seems as though every member is playing something different, each one lost in his own instrument but with a collective result of absolute unity.
‘The Waiting Room’ is Tindersticks’ 10th studio album and it’s been a wait of almost four years to get here. Employing film makers from UK, France, Germany and Brazil, each track from the album is accompanied by a film produced by La Blogoteque, which “attempt(s) not to describe the music, but to create a visual counter-point, a space for the music to inhabit”, shown on a huge screen behind the band. At first this jars a little, mostly because I don’t need any space filled, thank you; the music and the passion of this band is enough. But some of the films work well, namely Rosie Pedlow and Joe King’s depiction of a generic British seaside resort at the end of the season, which accompanies ‘Hey Lucinda’, a track so beautiful that I audibly let out a breath when it finishes. On the album track, Staples is joined by Lhasa de Sela in a recording taken a few years back. Sadly, Lhasa died in 2010 but Staples’ live solo tribute to her is both fun and haunting as he implores her to go for a drink with him because “time is running out”.
On ‘How he Entered’, Brazilian artist Gregorio Graziosi has taken black and white footage of a Catholic wedding that is as mesmerising as the song itself. A man about to embark on married life is our focus and, coupled with the lyrics, we get a glimpse into his very soul.
‘Were we once Lovers?’ is a good example of how this album is a new departure for Tindersticks, the song being more upbeat, racier, than we’re used to. Um, more jazz? Certainly, the fusion is a winning formula and, throughout the gig, I am constantly drawn to studying each musician in isolation, whilst being immersed in the whole. Earl Harvin on drums keeps pulling me to the back of the stage and organist/percussionist/everythingist, David Boulter, has a magnetism that means you need to spend time at the front with him too. Actually, the rule is, ‘If you’re not playing on this track, please get off the stage’ and we particularly enjoy watching the two guest saxophonists shuffling on and off where necessary.
An encore of three songs is pushed out by ‘Show me Everything’ and bassist, Dan McKinna, does a good job of replacing the female vocal backers, who are absent from this live show. Together with lead guitarist, Neil Fraser, the core of five band members is a remarkable thing to witness – each musician making his own sound but never encroaching upon the others, no limelight stealer, no ‘noise’. Completeness, precision, elegance. We see how music is made; the musical processes seem to be laid before you, nothing is lost.
It’s not likely that Tindersticks will come back around our way for some time, if ever. I’m seriously thinking of a trip to Berlin later in the year to catch them again.