I can’t think right
Am I going home tonight
Or staying here?
(Tindersticks, Sleepy Song)
I constantly state I don’t believe in reunions, comebacks, one-off events. I see them covered by nostalgia, by not accepting getting older and anxiously trying to cling to a past that has gone. Even less I can stand bands that reunite and produce a new album to culminate in a tour that doesn’t give much space to old favourites.
So said, it regularly happens that I cannot resist to some of these events specially when one of my stars decide to shine again.
The typical night ends with me going back home swearing to myself: “never again!”
There are exceptions. Tindersticks superlative concert at the London Royal Festival Hall demolished all my narrow-minded thesis.
Their only British performance in this short tour promoting Hungry Saw, their first album in 5 years, was definitely a shiny night.
Despite the concert opened with the first seven tracks in the order of the last album, it was immediately clear that tonight’s show was not about the set-list but about creating a memorable experience.
Tindersticks didn’t opt for a greatest hits comeback tour, but showed off their most recent music, dosed with pearls from the past, with the clear message that they are on top form and don’t need to stick to the safe hits.
On stage the original members, Stuart Staples, David Boulter and Neil Fraser, brought an impressive ensemble of fifteen elements, including strings, brasses, keyboards and anything else that could help building their distinctive gloomy atmospheres.
Staples inimitable deep voice is the heart of the group and his link with the rest of the band and the orchestra is so perfect to look instinctive. This regardless of the fact their latest London show is almost two years away and in the meanwhile a new rhythm session replaced the original elements.
2 hours, 2 encores and 22 songs later, the concert closes in style. The notes of She’s gone from their masterpiece second album resound in the flawless acoustic of the renovated Royal Festival Hall persuading me that reunions could be worth.
Rock music can be adult and convincing at the same time, without being a parody, without the need to dream “those old good days”.
By the way, those days were in Nottingham in the mid of the nineties, hence in the middle of indie-guitar Brit-pop. Tindersticks managed to elude all the clichés that were assaulting the charts to build a group so bright that shone of its own light.
Dipping their musical taste into darkness, nocturnal romanticism and literate lyrics they composed songs that synthesize Leonard Cohen dark poetry with Bad Seeds sinister magnificence, Scott Walker baroque orchestrations with Ian Curtis nihilistic depression.
Since the first homonymous album to the recent Hungry Saw, their seventh (not including a couple of soundtrack and Stuart Staples solo works), Tindersticks music is a unique mixture of songwriting harmonized with sophisticated arrangements.
The guitar parts are heightened by lush string pieces, sharp trumpet interventions and an elegant drumming that bring this band where Nick Cave may be if either Blixa Bargeld (in the past) or Warren Ellis (nowadays) weren’t joined to the Bad Seeds with the conscious aim to limit his inclination to grandiosity.
An entire trend of new music in recent years has to credit Tindersticks. From the nocturnal, melancholic rock of Cousteau, The National, Devastations or iLiKETRAiNS; from ex-pulp retro sound of Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley; from the sumptuous Rufus Wainwright and the several Canadian bands leading the chamber pop renaissance; the number of artists that formed a band after listening to Tindersticks’ albums is countless.
Unsurprisingly, with such a revival of gloomy, adult rock getting its way towards the mainstream, Tindersticks are not left alone on the road.
Nick Cave is living a wonderful second youth whichever part he plays, legends as Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits face their reluctance to touring and are about to walk the stages for the first time in years.
It is a wonderful period to be melancholic!
All-Seated theatres are not the best place for concert photographers.
In addition to all the usual problems, there are some more that can appear without notice.
To begin, you usually don’t know from which spot you will be shooting. It is not guaranteed you are in front of the stage. You could be either at the end of the stalls, usually in big arenas, or in the mixer position, as Eels required, or midway back along the isle, as Nick Cave demanded.
As a consequence, my first advice is to carry with you that heavy telephoto lens, just in case.
Then you are lucky if you are allowed 3 songs before being kicked off the theatre (Nick Cave is first song only).
Take also into account that if you don’t have a ticket, you have very few chances to stay in for the show, your only luck is a spare seat.
If you are in the front, since theatres have better acoustic and all seated event are generally quieter, your camera shutter can disturb the audience and the musicians.
The most amusing and embarrassing experience I ever had at a gig was when Kings of Convenience stopped the music to ask: “Hey Mr Photographer, how long do you still have to photograph?”
The reason why it is not always possible to shoot from the front is because, in addition to the artists, your presence disturbs people sitting in the first rows.
Fair enough, I am sympathetic with them. I would be upset to find someone moving in front of me once I got a first row ticket.
The consequence is that you work both with a guilty feeling and the anxiety that someone is about to get upset with you, which is distressing.
You also tend to stoop along the stage and sense a pressure to be quick anytime you stand… in a word you can’t concentrate.
To minimize this there is not a lot I can suggest. Showing an imperturbable, unemotional attitude is not something teachable; either you don’t give a damn, and you’re OK, or you have to deal with the situation.
In the second case good practice is to advise the first row people that you are going to be there only for the first songs, they usually don’t know and this predispose them positively.
I saw photographers kneeling down and standing just to photograph. I wouldn’t recommend, it is at high risk of losing the right moment, which is never predictable.
Standing along the side aisles, with no one behind, is another nice move, that location also gives you good frames of the entire stage using a moderate wide-angle.
The last option I can think of is to smile generously to everyone you meet, it always work!