Live Music + Gig Reviews

Saint Etienne @ KOKO, London

16 June 2005

Saint Etienne

Saint Etienne

Sarah, Bob and Paul are nearing the point in their musical careers at which words like “institution”, “national treasure” and “much loved” begin to seem appropriate when describing them. Saint Etienne, lest it be forgot, formed way back in 1988 and have been periodically gracing the singles chart ever since. As they have developed, so their fanbase has aged.

Tonight’s gig comes in a week that sees Side Streets, the lead single from concept album Tales From Turnpike House, notch up another top 40 entry for the band. The audience welcoming it to London are almost all of the thirtysomething bracket. It’s a safe bet that most have been into the Ets’ blend of shimmery pop for considerable periods of time.

And Koko is simply the perfect venue for the band and their admirers. The remodelled former Camden Palace has been decked out beautifully, and feels like the favoured sibling of the venerable Shepherd’s Bush Empire. The pungent smell of paint still hits the nostrils in the stairways, but otherwise the dcor and lighting is perfect and wonderfully stylish. And stylish is a word that Sarah Cracknell unquestionably embodies.

She sashays onto the stage resplendent in a home-made, sequined top that transforms her from confident front woman to human glitterball. The keyboardists operate behind her in a line, giving her the stage. They open with Heart Failed In The Back Of A Taxi – a low key start to say the least.

But soon the trio are joined by their latest batch of session musicians, boosting the line-up to six with bass, guitar and drums. The sound is fuller, but the group take time to gel. Saint Etienne’s studio recordings are precise things, yet initially the live rendering errs towards under-rehearsed.

Action, from Finisterre, goes down well, and Sarah’s enjoying herself. There’s something like dancing from devotees towards the front of the audience, but it’s self-conscious thirtysomething dancing. Only Sarah has the moves, for she age shall not wither.

Of the new material, A Good Thing is as good a slice of sexy poptastmagorica as anything they’ve done, and the spangly Stars Above Us pitches the tempo towards sassy dancing. The sublime Teenage Winter doesn’t really get going on stage, but it’s lyrically the best song the band have written.

Long-time fans will have long since given up hoping to hear He’s On The Phone – the band inexplicably choose not to indulge with their biggest early hits.

Also missing is Relocate, the inspired David Essex collaboration from Turnpike House. Essex is not in evidence, which is a pity, if unsurprising. His presence would’ve made the Ets’ fans feel a little less self-consciously old.

With such a strong new album to tout, much of this set was a delight. It would have been better still had the band wheeled out those little-aired back catalogue gems.

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