On the first listen to the Tindersticks, it's always Stuart Staples' voice that hooks you. It's a deep baritone, and flows through the songs like water. Friday night at the Fonda, it was his voice that captured the spirit of the crowd. At least at first.
But that notion that Stuart A. Staples is the Tindersticks quickly dissipated once the band kicked in. Accompanied by guitar, keyboards, cello, drum, guitar, bass and two horn players, the Tindersticks, though reduced this tour to a relatively small core, still built the smokey chanson jazz that, even as much as their lead singer's voice, is the calling card of the English band, which formed in Nottingham in 1991.
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Staples' songs are usually quiet affairs that pinpoint a little incident or feeling, then examine every nook and cranny of the emotion. On "Come Feel the Sun," a mournful waltz from the band's most recent album, The Hungry Saw, the band laid out a little ode that Staples drew circles around with his voice. On "Dying Slowly," Staples, his tone rolling along with the lackadaisical formlessness of Chet Baker, addresses defeatism and carelessness: "Dying slowly, better than shooting myself/Dying slowly, better than shouting it out."
The most revealing part of the show was also the most unscripted. Halfway through the performance, with the audience rapt and seated, some very very drunk man got sick of the bummerness and decided to inject a little life into it. He made his way down the middle aisle screaming and dancing, exhorting people to stand up and join him dancing. The crowd just looked at him, sad and pathetic and too-far-gone, while he danced along, twirling and shouting and making a scene, until a couple bouncers forcefully removed him to the lobby. Staples, unphased, kept going, singing about sadness and loneliness and the lost souls who disrupt the silence. The bouncers didn't kick the drunk man out, though they should have; he was trashed. Predictably, after scolding him, he made his way back into the room and tried to do it again. Fisticuffs ensued between him and a burly audience member who'd had enough. Soon enough they were down on the ground by the back bar going at it. Sounds like a pathetic Tindersticks song.