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all words and photos: Francis Chung

Somewhat surprisingly, the 9:30 Club was only about half-full for Tindersticks’ concert last Thursday night, but some of the loyal fans in attendance had gone to unusual lengths to see this rare US performance by the legendary UK chamber-rock band. Before the show, one couple was overheard saying that they had traveled from Atlanta specifically to see the show, while another fan spoke of having made a point of catching the group on its recent European tour.

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Tindersticks rewarded such devotion with a captivating ninety-minute performance, showcasing the grand musical scope and ambition that has earned them much critical acclaim and a relatively-small, but passionate popular following. In characteristically (melo)dramatic fashion, the band took the stage one by one during the instrumental “Introduction,” and proceeded to open their set by playing the first seven songs from their latest album, The Hungry Saw, in sequence.

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With current core members Stuart Staples, David Boulter, and Neil Fraser backed by three supporting musicians, Tindersticks delivered evocative renditions of “Yesterday’s Tomorrows,” “Come Feel the Sun,” and “The Other Side of the World,” with Staples’ poignant baritone taking center-stage (especially during quieter numbers such as “All the Love”). Despite its relatively stripped-down lineup, the band achieved a remarkably rich and textured instrumental mix of guitars, keyboards, drums, vibraphone, brass, and strings, the intricacies of which the club’s sound system laudably conveyed in crystal clarity. While the setlist was focused mainly on newer material, the band also played a number of standout songs from earlier records, including “She’s Gone” (from the eponymous 1995 LP) and “Dying Slowly” (from 2001’s Can Our Love…). As such titles suggest, the tone of Tindersticks’ music remains predominantly melancholic, although the emotional gravitas of the set was relieved on occasion by comparatively more upbeat songs such as “The Flicker of a Little Girl” and “The Organist Entertains.” Regrettably, the band chose not to perform any of the excellent soundtrack work they’ve done for Claire Denis’ films, but the cinematic breadth and beauty of Tindersticks’ music was nonetheless powerfully demonstrated throughout this impressive concert.
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NYC-based singer-songwriter Dawn Landes opened the show with an engaging set of indie-pop songs such as “Straight Lines” and “Bodyguard.” She supported Tindersticks during the east-coast dates of their current nine-city North American tour, which concludes in San Francisco this Saturday.
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