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flag England - Full Moon 82 - 06/14/03

Tindersticks + James Yorkston and The Athletes
Bristol St George's, UK, 07.06.03

The Tindersticks are something of an institution. They've been ploughing the same deep furrowed brow of the soul for about a decade now, and they remain consummate craftsmen, refined and distinguished gentlemen who play sad, beautiful music for sad, beautiful souls.

James Yorkston and two of his Athletes took to the St George's stage first, however, and ran through a few stirring renditions of songs from their critically acclaimed debut Moving Up Country. At this early juncture me and my friends realised that the idiotic management had placed a speaker right next to our seats, so we were unable to stand even the relatively low volume produced by an acoustic guitar, harmonium, double bass and voice. Too agitated by this unfortunate state of affairs to absorb Yorkston's set of earnest, rural singer-songwriting, I intend to return to the album in a more conducive environment to really soak up its undeniable warmth and humanity.

We sat a few rows further back with an inferior view, but less threat of hearing damage, to appreciate the main event. The Tindersticks were astounding. In the knowledge that they play a particular kind of precise, emotive soul music, it's easy to lose yourself completely in the masterfully layered sound. Essentially made up of very simple, repetitive elements, the power of the music stems from the way in which everything is so utterly part of the whole, including Stuart Staples creamy baritone. It's a love-or-hate vocal style, but as another instrument in the mix you can just appreciate the gorgeous ebb and flow of the songs and the way they touch you deeply without saying very much at all.

As the songs are put together so simply, if a song breathes into life and really moves you in the first few bars, you can be pretty sure it will carry you, weightless and breathless, for its duration. This is where the magic lies, and you can never be certain when it will catch you. Sitting through a few lacklustre numbers, where you itch for them to just step on the distortion pedals, or strike the snare with some venom, you can soon be met with a song of such balance and poise that you feel totally ashamed for doubting their distinction.

Returning to the stage three times for encores, they treated the rapt crowd to a couple of more edgy tracks from their first record, and then disappeared, half-smiling. I'm sure they've received the same ecstatic response on each date of their tour, the crowd unable to let this lovely music end. It's enough to know they will continue to make this music for a good time to come.

Copyright © 2003 Tim Clarke e-mail address

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