Live Music + Gig Reviews

Tindersticks @ Royal Festival Hall, London

1 May 2022

Celebrating their 30th anniversary, the chamber pop outfit give a concert that does full justice to their splendid, ongoing career

Tindersticks (Photo: Christophe Agou)

Tindersticks (Photo: Christophe Agou)

Chamber pop outfit Tindersticks arrived at the Royal Festival Hall in London midway through their 18-date European spring tour celebrating their 30th anniversary. The acoustically enhanced all-seater RFH seemed the perfect setting for a band with such an ‘orchestral’ palette. The concert hall had long been a sell-out and was their first show in the capital since 2017. After various changes in the personnel and size of the band – plus a hiatus when frontman Stuart Staples went solo in the mid-noughties – Tindersticks are still going strong, as shown by the release of their 13th studio album Distractions last year.

The two-hour, 22-song set is a trawl through the magnificent back catalogue of a band whose darkly seductive sound is unlike that of anyone else. The line-up begins with just the core members of the group – including co-founders singer/songwriter Staples, keyboardist/vibraphone player David Boulter and guitarist Neil Fraser, as well as bassist Dan McKinna and drummer Earl Harvin – then after a few songs it expands in size to include a horn player, a second guitarist, vocalist Gina Foster and, above all, a string section.

It’s an eclectic, atmospheric concert with rich arrangements and a lounge jazz feel, full of romantic melancholy, which underscores how much Tindersticks’ film music has influenced their output. The stage is often bathed in purple or blue light, with people quietly coming and going, and swapping instruments between songs.

Starting off in stripped-back mode, opener Willow (written by Staples for Claire Denis’s 2018 sci-fi/horror movie High Life) is a delicate, haunting song foregrounding Staples’ distinctive, husky baritone, with subtle instrumental backing. The gently poignant mood continues with beautifully understated versions of A Night So Still and Medicine (both from the 2102 album The Something Rain). A cellist joins the band for She’s Gone, then long-time collaborator Terry Edwards plays mournful trumpet on Sleepy Song – two tracks from Tindersticks’ second album, arguably their finest, and the one most represented tonight. Her from their stunning debut album is given a fine Hispanic flourish, also.

The gig really takes flight with the introduction of the string section as they swell their gorgeous sound to fill the hall. The sweeping string arrangement on Another Night In wouldn’t sound out of place in a 1950s Hollywood melodrama. The lushly stringed Both Sides Of The Blade comes from the band’s latest soundtrack (for the eponymous film, also directed by Denis). Staples gives a dramatic interpretation of the one cover in the show, Peggy Lee’s Johnny Guitar (the title song from the 1950s Western). And Gina Foster brings some soul to the gig when she joins Staples for a duet in Travelling Light, and stays on stage for several songs.

Following a tender, yearning account of For The Beauty, Staples – cutting a bohemian figure, as usual with moustache and sideburns, while wearing a dark hat and casual suit – tells the rapt audience, “Thanks for supporting us all these years”. After a brief time off stage, the band return for four encores, including old favourite Tiny Tears (featured in The Sopranos) and, finally, For Those which, according to Staples, the band has not performed for 20 years – a characteristically quirky way to end a concert that does full justice to Tindersticks’ splendid, ongoing career.

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More on Tindersticks
Tindersticks @ Royal Festival Hall, London
Tindersticks – Distractions
Tindersticks’ Stuart Staples: “I needed to be in a place I hadn’t been before” – Interview
Tindersticks – No Treasure But Hope
Tindersticks: Minute Bodies: The Intimate World Of F Percy Smith @ Barbican, London