concert review: Tindersticks, Elfin Saddle @ The Opera House (Toronto, Ontario) - March 10, 2009
Tindersticks' Stuart Staples: photo by Michael Ligon
It was probably for the best that if I were to be attending any shows just prior to the three days of Canadian Musicfest shows I plan to attend that it would be the Tindersticks and Elfin Saddle at The Opera House this past Tuesday night. Succintly, it's the kind of show that hardly expends any physical energy on the part of the concert-goer (other than having to stand for a few hours) and God knows I'll need my energy over the next several days. Tindersticks' and Elfin Saddle's respective songs tend towards a moody head space that's mostly about listening and absorbing the sounds. And what beautiful sounds they were.
Copping a few bits of info from their MySpace, Elfin Saddle is comprised of Emi Honda (musical saw, singing, ukulele, various drums & percussion) and Jordan Mckenzie (half-accordion, singing, glockenspiel, prepared guitar, foot drum) and for their second album now out on Montreal's Constellation Records as well as this current tour, they've added Nathan Gage (upright bass, tuba). I'd casually strolled in to The Opera House, probably a song or two into their set and there was already a healthy crowd onhand, but as a previously unknown entity to me, I was taken with them almost immediately. I would best describe them as experimental acoustic folk music. With an arsenal of instruments at hand it was interesting to see and hear the instrumental variations from song to song, though my favourite had to be Emi Honda as she tapped out interesting percussive arrangements on the ramshackle drumkit (even sporting a cymbal with a crack in it) at the same time singing some somewhat complex vocal parts. There's a little bit of a droney, mantra-like quality with the non-English lyrics on some songs but there was a buoyancy in the instrumentation that kept things from dragging. It was a very good start to the evening.
A sense of occasion, especially since this was the first Toronto show in 5 years, filled the air as the audience waited patiently for Tindersticks. When a couple of band members quietly took to the stage, there were some initial moments of cheers from the audience but as the couple of Tindersticks members quietly tapped out the opening notes of 'Introduction' (the lead track off of their most recent album "The Hungry Saw"), as if on cue the audience became eerily silent. The remaining members one-by-one came onto the stage and took to their instruments joining in on the instrumental all the while the audience maintaining their peace. It was a nice start to their set. When vocalist Stuart Staples finally made his presence known, the crowd responded with glee. They performed just about every track off "The Hungry Saw" from what I recall bookending the main set with those tracks, with some other songs (I presume some older songs) performed midway through the set. Banter was kept to a bare minimum (not without some in the audience prompting them to speak to which Stuart Staples replied he'd already said 'hello'), and overall it was a moody, smoldering set of their dark pop music. Although perhaps not always apparent on record, Tindersticks showed more vigor on relatively more energetic tracks like the pastoral pop of 'The Flicker Of A Little Girl' and the soul-pop of 'The Hungry Saw'. I think it was during the encore that Tindersticks approached their most energetic, especially as Staples picked up the maracas and vigorously shaked them. It's a spark of energy that shows the band does have the capability to kick it up a notch although perhaps chooses to keep under wraps most of the time. For most of the audience including myself, if Tindersticks were to continue down their moody, world-weary path, that'd be just fine.
Photos: Tindersticks, Elfin Saddle @ The Opera House (March 10, 2009)
Chromewaves and Eye Weekly wholeheartedly agree that the show was stellar.
MySpace: Elfin Saddle