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Friday show preview: The Tindersticks flash a bit of malice, a little soul

March 12, 2009 |  8:34 am

Tindersticks It's rare to get the members of the Tindersticks on the road. When the U.K. band arrives in Los Angeles for a stop at Hollywood's Henry Fonda Theater on Friday night, it will be the band's first trek across North America in five years, and the jaunt will have been but a fleeting nine days.

Who can blame them? Over the course of seven studio albums, stretching back to 1993's self-titled debut, the Tindersticks have trafficked in moods and atmospheres -- debonair compositions and often quiet, soul-inspired songs. It's music in search of a noir soundtrack, and it feels more solitary than fit for a crowd.

Don't be fooled, however. There's plenty of tension -- and a bit if menace -- that's worth watching in the Tindersticks' downbeat vibe, one that's almost always illustrated with a rather elegant orchestration. The act, led by the soft-voiced Stuart Staples -- a singer who has a tendency to sound as if his vocals are obscured by a veil of smoke -- will land in L.A. as a 7-piece mini-orchestra.

The songs showcased will be from last year's "The Hungry Saw," an album that rewrote the Tindersticks lineup -- three of the six original members left in 2006. While it didn't remake the band's bourbon-stained orchestrations, it captured a more relaxed, temperate band. "Flicker of Little Girl" almost passes for fun, with its cymbal brushes, resigned piano and gentle, hypnotic wind instruments. Staples soon kills any chance at relaxation. "We all want what we can't afford, and we all get what we deserve," he sings, as if he's simply stating an obvious fact.

"With ‘Hungry Saw,’ it was very much a kind of point in time," Staples says. "We gave ourselves eight days to make it, so it was very much about twisting a moment, and twisting the ideas of each other. That gives it kind of a consistency. With a song like ‘Flicker,’ that was a real joy to make the song. It became important that we removed the tense from it, so there was a freedom around the edges -- even the bass -- to do whatever it wanted to do."

In between 2003's "Waiting on the Moon" and "The Hungry Saw," Staples made a pair of solo albums and did some soundtrack work. He doesn't speak in too much detail about the departure of half the band, including principal arranger Dickon Hinchliffe ("I can't say I didn't miss him," Staples says), but notes that he's currently finding the Tindersticks more rewarding than any solo work.

"I was responsible for every decision, every note," he says of his own albums. "But when I went back to working with the band, the songs were not presented full formed. They’re loose ideas. They’re thrown in to see what happens among the band. That’s such a different way of working. It’s the ideal situation for me to be working right now."

Featuring a core of Staples, keyboardist David Boulter and guitarist Neil Fraser -- although multi-instrumentalist is a more accurate tag for any member of the Tindersticks -- "The Hungry Saw" touches on textures explored by the Tindersticks in the past. "Yesterday's Tomorrows" is a strikingly sharp soul cut -- guitars prowl in the shadows, a trumpet fights back last call and a fierce rhythm pushes Staples to the front. "Come Feel the Sun" does anything but -- a ballad marked by a piano that sounds as if it has more malicious intentions -- and "Boobar, Come Back to Me" builds to a crushing call-and-response chronicling a midlife crisis, the album's most rowdy moment.

It's all left Staples inspired to see the Tindersticks name live on for another album. "There’s a real general feeling and general desire to make something new," he says. "We want to take that on and see how far it can go. ‘The Hungry Saw,’ in a lot of ways, was an album that got us on secure footing. Now we want to progress, and take some chances and see what happens between this group of people."

-- Todd Martens

The Tindersticks at the Henry Fonda Theater, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., Friday, March 13. Tickets available via Ticketmaster, $28, not including surcharges.

Photo: Constellation Records