Gig Review: Tindersticks @ Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 4th October 2008

Tindersticks‘ gig at the Bridgewater Hall last Saturday night was something of a renaissance for the band after years of what seemed like a steady decline in their popularity and the quality and quantity of their output. I can barely remember the last time I saw them at the Academy 2 in 2001 and if JustHipper hadn’t reminded me about that gig I would have been telling you that the last time I saw them was Glastonbury 1999.

Hopefully my memory will play similar tricks if I ever attempt to recall seeing support act Sara Lowes at any point in the future. I was initially impressed that a young, relatively unknown singer-songwriter would turn up with a seven-strong backing band in place but soon grew weary of her unremarkable and completely forgettable made-for-Radio 2 fare. We headed back to the bar after four songs and stood next to the great Guy Garvey as we ordered our drinks. He is a big bloke, in real life.

I won’t be forgetting the Tindersticks’ performance in a hurry. The Bridgewater Hall is a perfect venue for their brooding, melancholy, orchestral pop and the fact that they had a mini-orchestra playing with them was a major plus point. Their new album, The Hungry Saw, is a return to the sort of form they were in in their late nineties heyday and on the night they played the whole album (with the unexplained exception of “Mother Dear”), in order but in two parts with a bunch of oldies in between. They did a similar thing at Glastonbury in 1999 when they played the yet-to-be-released Simple Pleasures in its entirety. The first seven album tracks were played to perfection and it was the three instrumentals that really stood out from the rest. Where they tend to pass by with little more than a passing wave when listening to the album, live, and with the benefit of being able to see the orchestra play their component parts, they unravelled to reveal intricate, beautiful melodies that had previously gone unnoticed.

After the thoroughly entertaining “The Organist Entertains”, the soulful “Dying Slowly”, from 2001’s Can Our Love… ushered in a collection of older songs as well as a Townes Van Zandt cover (sadly not “Kathleen”). There were three songs in a row from their classic eponymous second album including “Travelling Light” which, despite being my favourite Tinders track, was the biggest disappointment of the night. It’s a song that really only works as a duet and with Stuart Staples singing it alone and changing the words so that each line was from his own standpoint it fell a little flat, despite the best efforts of the string section. “Sleepy Song” followed and instantly made up for it with the orchestra again excelling with its swells of strings and brass.

“The Hungry Saw” saw most of the orchestra turning their hands to percussion while “Boobar Come Back To Me”, the highlight of the new album, built from its quiet beginnings to a resounding crescendo. Stuart Staples, with hair cropped and sculpted sideburns, has aged very well and his voice hasn’t changed at all – for me it was always more rich, tender baritone than Vic Reeves club singer. He was on fine form all night, never more so than on “All The Love”, the slow burning, mournful lament that was the high point of the evening as far as I’m concerned.

The encore began with their cover of “If You’re Looking For A Way Out”, a song that at first seemed an unlikely choice of cover but that fitted right in with the downbeat soul of Simple Pleasures and that they have now made their own. The lively Spanish guitar flourishes and Mariachi horns of “Her” brought Calexico to mind and the sparse “The Not Knowing” brought matters to a sombre close. This was a tremendous return for one of my favourite bands of the nineties and Alzheimer’s will have set in by the time I forget this one.

Tindersticks – All The Love

Tindersticks – Travelling Light

Tindersticks – The Not Knowing

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