The Tindersticks

performance at Bowery Ballroom, NYC

Is it possible to like a band when you desperately despise the lead singer? Is it possible to enjoy said band's performance when said lead singer has the most grotesquely pretentious affect of a stage presence imaginable?

(Freudian slip/Dadaist automatic writing alert: the first time I wrote the above sentence I wrote "stage fright" instead of "stage presence.")

Well, the answer is, somehow, yes. For the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the show in question, I kept thinking to myself that if I were one of those types who yells out bon mots during moments of silence between applause and song, I'd yell, "I am not persuaded!"

Basically, the lead singer is self-important, unsmiling, mean and/or arrogant with stage hands attempting to help him, over-dramatic, eyes closed, great arm gestures with lit cigarette, oh-so-deep-am-I looks, and he sings, for all intents and purposes, exactly like Bryan Ferry.

The thing is, Bryan Ferry already does that quite well himself. Those who want to share great revelations of song ought to court their own style, methinks!

So what saved me? What persuaded me, you might ask? Of course it helped that I was there with David Strauss and had been drinking a good bourbon.

What really worked, however, was the other voice. The violin player, sometimes a guitar player but mostly a violin player, had such a voice, a voice hard to forget, and difficult to dismiss. As soon as he began to sing, I switched my focus entirely to his performance, and, without noting it, sometime in the last seventy minutes of the ninety minute show, was utterly persuaded.

What, then, does "I am not persuaded!" mean, you might ask me. I'm not entirely sure myself, but the phrase intruded into my mind as reaction to the event, and it struck me as just right. There is some aspect of noticeable affect that strikes one as superficial or inauthentic, especially when it is an affect that aims to portray authenticity (because authenticity is precisely that which cannot be portrayed).

Perhaps I am expecting too much of this rock band, you say. They are simple minstrels offering their wares for my benefit and thus should not be judged so sternly. To such a rejoinder I have two responses: 1) always better to expect too much than to be satisfied with trifles, 2) they set themselves up, in demeanor, orchestration, composition, etc., to be judged thus, and thus they are judged.

The music is interesting in that I-am-a-very-profound-white-boy-if-I-do-say-so-myself kind of way. Don't get me wrong. That "kind of way" is fine with me, when done with some form of humility or grace­—this is what the violin player managed, and this is what moved me, and made me want to Yoko Ono him right out of that band and on to better, more truthfully profound things.

I met a boy at the club that night who numbered the Tindersticks second album among his top 5 albums of all time (picture me snickering, as I had just re-viewed High Fidelity the night before) sandwiched between Chopin and Mingus. So this stuff affects people. It is a form of mastery possible in pop music (this kind of pop music, with its many instruments touring together is sometimes called "chamber pop").

This music seems to make people want to be in love. Indeed, Strauss and I seemed to be the only people there who weren't on a date. We stood in a sea of couples standing in that I'll-hug-you-from-behind-to-show-our-togetherness formation.

Strauss made some comment to the Chopin-Timbersticks-Mingus guy about Mingus' personality, and then looked at me in an ironic aside with some question about what Chopin's personality was like. I said, "I don't remember, it's been a while" (anachronism is always funny). That seemed to please everyone, and then the music started, and the long route to persuasion began.


PS—I wrote this on the ferry from New Bedford, MA, to Martha's Vineyard, and just as I wrote the last word, I overhead a guy saying, "Turkey wrapped in bacon is delicious!" This is the guy who I had seen reading a book that I thought I recognized as an English translation of Nietzsche's The Will to Power (always an ambiguous sign). And since he had been checking me out and was handsome, I thought, "hey, maybe there's a cute and smart guy (besides Felix) on this two-hour ferry ride." Then he started swilling beer and doing pull-ups (I am not making this up) and speaking loudly to his friends about his sporting prowess. I was obviously the wrong audience for him.

The book ended up being some Vintage paperback well-worn by the sea air. So I had to admit that my writing and my interests are precisely that kind of, in some people's estimation, false profundity, or at least hifalutin' philosophical time-suck, that I didn't want to be persuaded by in Member #1 of the Tindersticks. It's all in how it's done, and who's viewing. Sometimes, maybe, you see something close to what you want it to be, but not close enough, and that's worse than far off.

—Anne Senhal