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It is to Europe, with its concepts of Weltschmerz and ennui, that the alienated Englishman or woman has traditionally had to turn in order to find a stylish model for the nagging feelings of dissatisfaction they experience. In the Tindersticks’ case, the path has led from Nottingham to France, where this most handsomely pain-wracked of groups has had a renewal of life, as confirmed by their impressive Barbican concert.
Split into two halves, the show opened with a cover of Peggy Lee’s “Johnny Guitar”, from the 1954 film of that name, sung with a deep romantic ache by frontman Stuart Staples while his bandmates conjured a slow shimmer of chords. Then came a series of songs from the band’s past, tales of unfulfilled longing and minor-key dread. “I haven’t closed my eyes,” Staples crooned gravely in “Sleepy Song”, a track from their 1995 second album. His bandmate Dave Boulter played a lullaby-like glockenspiel melody, to which a baritone saxophonist added an insomniac note of tension.
The band’s current line-up includes three original members, with Boulter and Staples joined by Neil Fraser on guitar. Having almost split up a decade ago, they have been revitalised by Staples’ relocation to rural France. Their latest album, The Waiting Room, underlines their renaissance. It was played in full in the second half of the concert.
Continuing the cinematic theme announced by the “Johnny Guitar” cover, each of its 11 tracks was accompanied by a film. The director Claire Denis, with whom the Tindersticks have a long collaborative relationship, contributed an enigmatic portrait of a traveller adrift in a French railway station for “Help Yourself”. Images of a solitary man in a crowd were a perfect match for the song’s bustling jazz saxophones and terse vocals.
A Staples-directed film of a woman floating in a murky swimming pool was projected during “The Waiting Room”, an eerie organ-based number about suffering. The masterly duet “Hey Lucinda” was ill-served by clichéd footage of a faded English seaside town and suffered from the sad absence of Staples’ co-vocalist Lhasa de Sela, who died in 2010 (he sang her part). Yet its power was irresistible, with superb sax arrangements underscoring Staples’ touching, comic verses about autumnal lovers. Like the fine wines of their adopted homeland, Tindersticks grow better with age.
Now touring, tindersticks.co.uk