The dilemmas faced by long-running bands when they tour are clear. You’ve got at least some, maybe most of the crowd, wanting to hear their favorite songs, and you’ve got a band who has been playing those songs for so long that maybe they’re a little sick of the usual suspects. Compounding matters in Tindersticks’ case, this is the first time they’ve been to Toronto in at least a couple of years, and partly that’s because half of the band left between 2003’s Waiting for the Moon and last year’s fine The Hungry Saw. They still fielded a seven-man band for their Toronto show, but with half the core group gone it’s an open question as to how able they would have been to do many of the old favorites even if they were willing.
Whatever their reason for shying away from more seasoned material, the band chose an interesting format to get around the issue. Beginning the show, just as The Hungry Saw does, with the scene-setting instrumental “Introduction” and going directly into early highlight “Yesterday’s Tomorrow” was perfectly in line with expectations, but when Tindersticks then proceeded to play the next five tracks from their newest album in order, it was a bit jarring. One of the real pleasures of seeing a long-running band is wondering, during the brief gap between songs, where they’re going to go next, and while The Hungry Saw is a good album, it’s also not their best and the thought that one of their rare Canadian shows might be taken up with just the new album wasn’t a pleasant one.
The Hungry Saw
(Beggars Banquet; US: 16 Sep 2008; UK: 28 Apr 2008)
To the audience’s credit, they seemed to know and love all of the new songs (and to the band’s credit the performance of each song was superb) but when they launched into “Dying Slowly” from 2001’s Can Our Love… I felt a palpable sense of relief to hear a track from my favorite Tindersticks album. The brief, barnstorming set of older tracks they played was revelatory, and the crowd ate it up—and then the band launched into “The Hungry Saw” itself and the rest of their set consisted of the second half of the new album played in order.
Tindersticks did come out for a three-song encore consisting of more back catalog choices, but the concert did feel odd for a variety of reasons. Keeping the new and old material separate does make a certain amount of sense, as it’s a ‘new’ band (even if the band’s sound and Stuart Staples’ voice are as wonderfully dark as ever), but the shift in and out of the Hungry Saw songs felt a bit stilted. Also interesting was the band’s choice of old material—no “Tiny Tears”, no “No More Affairs”, nothing off of Simple Pleasure. The encore was a perfect example; Tindersticks dug up the old, promo-only instrumental “Buried Bones”, then played the lengthy “My Oblivion” off of Waiting for the Moon, and then ended their show with the eight minute spoken word ramble of “My Sister” from 1995’s epochal self-titled album. On the one hand, you can see how awesome that kind of selection is for the hardened Tindersticks fan (I certainly didn’t think I’d be seeing “My Sister” live, and they killed it), but at the same time it’s not what you’d expect for the big finale.
What old material did get aired was mostly from 1995’s Tindersticks or from Waiting for the Moon, although when guitarist Neil Fraser had an unexpected equipment problem it did prompt Staples to shoehorn a fiery, incredible version of “Her”, from the band’s debut, into the set while things were fixed. As interesting and satisfying as it was to hear the likes of “She’s Gone” and “Sleepy Song” live, it was a bit weird to hear them at the expense of the likes of “Can We Start Again?” or “I Know That Loving”.
You can’t fault Tindersticks, then, for doggedly pursuing their own muse wherever it leaves them, and all of the performances they provided were top-notch (and with some of the weaker Hungry Saw tracks, revelatory). And so their Toronto show was that rarest and most discomfiting of beasts—a concert in which every song was good-to-great and yet the overall experience was in an odd way kind of a let down.