Tindersticks have always transcended their times, disregarding convention and challenging their loyal audience with restless experimentation and niche projects. On Saturday night they reconvened at London’s Barbican Centre for the first time since last year’s ‘The Waiting Room’ show for a cine-performance of their latest venture, ‘Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith’.
The handiwork of leader Stuart Staples and editor David Reeve, ‘Minute Bodies’ was an interpretative tribute to the pioneering films of the titular naturalist documentary-maker, featuring an instrumental score by the band in tandem with percussionist Thomas Belhom and pianist Christine Ott. Note-perfect throughout, the show consolidated their reputation as a singular, captivating act unlike no other musical operators.
Constructed as an archival collage or patchwork in a similar spirit as that employed by Saint Etienne on their raiding of the BFI catalogue for their hymn to post-war London, ‘How We Used To Live’, ‘Minute Bodies” monochrome montage depicted the unfolding of the natural world in all its strange, giddy glory; bursting tadpoles, sperm hitting eggs, bees imbibing nectar from flowers, runner bean shoots gyrating like ballet dancers in mesmerising close-ups. Extracting the plummy narration of the original footage and eschewing subtitles liberated the pictures from historical signifiers and rendered the material alive, vital and hypnotic; a sensual dance on screen.
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Accompanying these images, the group’s relatively muted soundtrack was eloquently realised by the unassuming septet, a subtle concoction drawing upon xylophone, glockenspiel, organ, violins, piano and sax to conjure moods of sinister unease and endearing playfulness. The becalming musique concrete of ‘Gathering Moss’, sun-bleached soundscape of ‘Reverse Frog’ and atonal squawk and clatter of ‘Magic Myxies’ were juxtaposed with the eerie, languid waltz of ‘The Strangler’ and the sloe-eyed jazz of ‘World In A Wine Glass’ to impart a sense of unsettling, dishevelled beauty akin to space cadets uncovering an alien world for the first time.
The band emerged for the second half for a relaxed trawl through some highlights from their imperious phase such as ‘My Sister’, ‘Drunk Tank’ and the still brilliant ‘Travelling Light’, augmented by choices from recent albums. ‘How He Entered’ and ‘Say Something Now’ received rapturous applause and were laced with a delicate, world-weary majesty, as Staples’ wounded baritone commanded attention and delivered a heartfelt sense of redemption.
As the final notes of a triumphant version of ‘My Oblivion’ wafted into the ether, sending the assembled devotees into the crevices of a sweaty London night, it struck me that Tindersticks’ power and creativity remain utterly undiminished: they really are consistently excellent but always different.