Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Tindersticks @ Somerset House, London 15/07/12

Performing in the courtyard of a 460 year-old building, one that's practically next-door neighbours with grandiose landmarks such as St. Paul's Cathedral, imbues a gig with a sense of occasion that only a few bands could live up to.

Tindersticks are so good tonight that it feels like Somerset House was built for the sole purpose of having them play inside its grounds.

The Nottingham natives begin with the typically understated ballad 'Blood', something of a symbolic gesture given that the track appears on their self-titled debut album, released back in 1993.

The first thing that becomes apparent is how impeccable the sound is, as lead singer Stuart Staple's distinctively deep voice pounds against the stonework, engulfing the courtyard with its resounding baritone. 

The set draws heavily from Tindersticks' latest album The Something Rain, including the 10-minute, spoken word track 'Chocolate'. A short story narrated by pianist David Boulter, it gently lulls into a stupor with its hypnotic, semi-improvised jazz instrumentation accompanying a seemingly humdrum tale of weekly routine, pool tables and cocoa.

The potential for 'Chocolate' to reek of self-indulgence means it's exactly the kind of thing that shouldn't work at an outdoor gig. But it’s a testament to Tindersticks' ability to subtly tweak their aesthetic that every one of Boulter's words, which build to a memorable climax, hold the attention.

Other new songs, such as 'Frozen', 'Show Me Everything' and 'This Fire Of Autumn' have a rewarding vitality that defies the band's years. Their intensity confounds any assumption that the six-piece, some of whom have been together on and off for over 20 years now, should be ready to hang up their boots.

The reality is that even when Tindersticks first appeared in the early nineties they had the refined and full-bodied sound of a band that had been together a short lifetime.

Almost note-perfect throughout, there's very little said between the band members and even less said to the audience after each song. But there's lots of smiling – a surprising amount, perhaps, given that Tindersticks have a reputation for being the audio equivalent of the pissing rain.

That reputation is also challenged by the double-whammy of redemptive and soulful tracks 'I Know That Loving', from 1999's Simple Pleasure album, and 'Slippin Shoes', which swells with saxophone and exotic drums.

The night ends, however, with the booze-induced melancholy that they made their name with, and it couldn't be any other way. During 'Cherry Blossoms', the six middle-aged men, on a stage lit up like an Amsterdam prostitute's window, dab at their instruments, as Staples mumbles a characteristically solemn soliloquy. The lights that have been illuminating the walls of Somerset House in blue and purple begin to dim, while Tindersticks burn as bright as ever.

Written for Clash