Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Tindersticks, Bridgewater Hall, October 4

They both played as big bands, but strength in numbers was where the similarlities between Tindersticks and support Sara Lowes ended.

Lowes, a Manchester singer-songwriter, conjured retro, slightly sixties songs that were closer to smooth LA pop than the dark musical heritage of her home town. Her pleasant vocals were tinged with the humour of Fiery Furnaces’ Eleanor Friedberger.

Tindersticks, however, are autumn personified, a distillation of that bittersweet end of summer feeling - the realisation that it’s really over and won’t come back. Like all rich things, their music is best enjoyed in moderation, often as a concoction administered at the end of a relationship.

They’re the aural equivalent of getting your coat, scarf and gloves back out, tucking into shepherd’s pie and settling down inside as the nights get longer. Putting Tindesticks on is as comforting as wrapping up in your favourite old jumper.

Fittingly for a band who create film soundtracks, Tindersticks took to the stage one by one like a roll call of characters listed in order of appearance. A sedate tableau emerged from the darkness, with only one vital ingredient missing: Stuart Staples’ extraordinary voice.

Staples was stuck to the microphone as if by magnetism, eyes closed, for most of the set as if he was straining to hear the dramas that were carried out in the whispers of his own voice. He was spotlighted at times, but the extra attention was unnecessary; his voice is its own spotlight that dazzles everything around it.

When Staples, hitherto grey haired and grave in a grey jacket, came back beaming after the encore, it was akin to Gordon Brown getting up and doing a dance in the middle of parliament.

Like the best movies, Tindersticks were engrossing yet offered moments of excitement. An instrumental with a bassline straight out of The Shadows was accompanied by spotlights sweeping across the stage like the start credits to a James Bond film.

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