It would be easy — and not altogether off the mark — to depict Stuart Staples as the psycho-musical equivalent of Typhoid Mary. The British singer, best known as frontman of the Tindersticks, has built a cult following in the States through a catalog of deeply debauched tales delivered in a rumbling baritone that makes Leonard Cohen sound like Smokey Robinson. At a Gotham perf, Staples conveyed some of that sepulchral gloom, but he also exuded a woozy warmth that made the absinthe-laced tunes go down in a peculiarly delightful way.
Performing material drawn largely from his recently released Beggars Banquet solo album “Leaving Songs,” the set had an ambience not unlike that of the Tindersticks’ recent material — perhaps because the band’s guitarist Neil Fraser and keyboard player David Boulter are joining Staples on this busman’s holiday.
There were palpable differences in tone, however, notably the physicality that was showcased bracingly on the steely-eyed “Say Something New” and the seemingly less hermetically sealed view of the universe that shimmered through the aptly titled “I’ve Come a Long Way” — a tune that carries traces of classic Northern Soul in its DNA.
As ever, Staples put forth even his darkest ruminations with an effortless elegance, casually leaning into the spare trumpet line of “Somerset House” and addressing mortality with an accepting sigh of recognition — rather than a mordant moan — on “Dance With an Old Man.”
While he’s not ordinarily prone to slip under the covers, he brought a similar tenderness to “16 Summers, 15 Falls,” an obscurity from the catalog of the late Townes Van Zandt, whose high-lonesome iconoclasm is kept alive — albeit in a decidedly Anglo-centric manner — in Staples’ body of work.