Tindersticks - Somerset House, London 15/07/12
It seemed fitting that this year's summer series at Somerset House included Tindersticks as one of the headliners. This neo-classical building and its large courtyard was a fine setting for their familiarly soulful mix of sadcore and lounge jazz.
I hadn't been to one of these events before and I was struck by the unusual audience mix. There were quite a few tourists in all-weather gear, mixing with London types in smart suits. I even spotted two cravats. A mix of dapper, suave and everyday people.
Unfortunately most of the crowd tend to ignore support act Emmy the Great, but Emma-Lee Moss wasn't daunted by this and cut a confident figure on the large stage. Wearing a pink Black Flag t-shirt, she chatted between the songs and even coaxed the audience into singing happy birthday to guitarist Nick. 'Dinosaur Sex' opened the brief set and was one of the highlights, whilst the Leonard Cohen influenced 'First Love' was the best received. The songs are still firmly within that Dylan/ Cohen style, though it is interesting to hear how they are developing into a fully fledged band and not a singer-songwriter project.
Tindersticks have been around for the best part of 20 years, with their first album topping Melody Maker's end of year poll back in 1993. This current incarnation has emerged from a brief sabbatical in the middle of the last decade to make some new music and has now crafted one of their finest albums with the release of this year's The Something Rain.
Tonight they began with 'Blood', a beautiful song from that first album. Original members Stuart Staples, Dave Boulter and Neil Fraser are the familiar faces, and Stuart was sporting an impressive handlebar moustache. With subtle red spotlights, this was a tastefully subdued opening, and it led into their distinctive cover of Odyssey's 'If You're Looking For A Way Out'.
Familiar collaborator Terry Edwards joined the ranks on sax for another old tune, 'Dick's Slow Song', which featured vocal interplay between Stuart and Dave Boulter. 'Chocolate', the lead track from the new album was next, a brave choice to play live as it is essentially Dave reading a short story but it totally works, and it seemed as if a few in the crowd didn't know about the twist at the end.
From this point material from The Something Rain dominated the set. The smouldering soul of 'Show Me Everything' may be the catchiest song that they have ever done, whilst 'This Fire of Autumn' was the first really uptempo tune, complete with liberal doses of wah-wah pedal.
The pace dropped for 'A Night So Still' just as it got dark, and the soft soul music of the older song 'I Know That Loving' dovetailed with this perfectly.
The strength of the recent album was underlined by the next few songs though. 'Slippin' Shoes' was dominated by Terry Edwards sax and Earl Harvin's excellent drumming, and led into 'Frozen', which for me was the highlight of the set. The band were trying something new, pulling and twisting their sound out of its comfort zone, with Stuart using a vocal effects box to lengthen his notes, and Earl's drumming retaining an incredibly funky back beat. If anyone had come here thinking that Tindersticks were only going to trade on past glories, 'Frozen' was the song to change that perception.
After that, the suggestive 'Come Inside' made a tender, gentle end to the set. The deserved encore included 'If She's Torn', the relatively noisy '4.48 Psychosis', and the beautiful 'Cherry Blossoms', the melody of which seemed to hang in the air after they had left the stage.
Tindersticks didn't put a foot wrong tonight. They weren't trying to rest on their back catalogue as the new material is very strong. They've grown old gracefully with their audience, and their music has changed and developed as well. A lot of their contemporaries should be jealous.