Cult London pop trio steal hearts on the south coast with a snuggly smorgasbord of hits for old times’ sake
“I just remembered we played here almost a year to the month and had a wonderful time, but tonight feels even better. I’m having a great time” announces Saint Etienne’s congenial frontwoman Sarah Cracknell. Dressed for the occasion in a shimmering glittery blazer, whilst Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley are looking remarkably professorial, Sarah seems genuinely delighted to be performing and that fondness permeates out into the crowd. Remembrance of things past continues to be the recurrent theme that the cult London three piece and its admirers love to explore. They spend more even time looking back these days than Proust himself could manage. And though there are no madeleines on offer this evening, there’s a Sylvie, a Fonteyn and a Francoise.
Sylvie is the cute little cat belonging to Sarah, who she shares a picture of, inciting a chorus of awwwww’s from the soppy crowd. The adorable feline shares its nomenclature with yé-yé legend Ms Sylvie Vartan. Fonteyn, a track off their last record I’ve Been Trying To Tell You, though spelt almost the same way as dancer Margot, is probably also named for the Gallic chanteuse Brigitte Fontaine who also found fame in the 1960s. And finally one of the many faces that flashes up on screen behind the group, as part of a montage of what looks like collectible cards is Francoise Hardy, a contemporary of both Vartan and Fontaine.
Starting with Like A Motorway, the band plays a set almost identical to the one offered 12 months prior. But this isn’t a failing built on laziness or contempt from the band, it’s what the crowd wants, a snuggly smorgasbord of hits for old times’ sake. The cloudy white chemtrails arrowing across the blue sky on the screen during the number resemble the iconic album cover art of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn. However, there is none of that band’s cold innovation or stoic experimentalism. Saint Etienne are a band who have built a career on fuzzy reassurances of what went before. So we get heartfelt versions of fan favourites Magpie Eyes, Who Do You Think You Are and Heart Failed (In The Back Of A Taxi), a song that no doubt takes on new meaning as the median age of the crowd zooms on past the midcentury mark.
Aware that these are perhaps musical chestnuts, Sarah quips “This one is even older” as they fire up Only Love Can Break Your Heart. It’s the sweet spot in the evening, the song that everyone present has been quietly anticipating and the room erupts with born again abandon the second those beats kick in. Where the rest of the evening had been gentle and affectionate, this is anything but that. Thunderous, dubby and electric, for nearly 10 minutes we’re all whisked away from the gloomy mundane present and transported back to those elysian raves and club dance floors of yore. Proust once wrote “Love is space and time measures by the heart,” and on this cool Friday night, Saint Etienne didn’t break hearts, they stole them.