27 years ago, in an era when young people made music as a way to express themselves rather than as a vehicle for status or a route to minor celebrity-ism, a smart, hip, 3 piece band from London showed the world what could be done when indie-dance melded with melodic pop structures, strong production and the coolest record label on the planet.
Returning to Newcastle to remind us of just how ahead of their time they were, the touring Saint Etienne (7 members in total) put on a show which blended mega-selling early-90s, pre-Britpop-pop, singles with tracks from the past decade. On this, their ‘Home Counties’ tour, childhood friends, and band creators, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs have built a touring band which not only replicates studio recordings but also provides greater depth. Tracks such as ‘Like a motorway’ are given a Curtis Mayfield-style of funk makeover, which serves to reinforce the core song rhythms and elevate the whip-smart, satirical, lyrics about consumerist obsessions, stereotypes and society’s need for sweeping generalisations.
Yet no matter how poppy the songs, how funky the band or how subversive the lyrics, it would mean very little without the fabulous Sarah Cracknell who provides both the light and shade which underpin the heart of Saint-Etienne. Specifically, it’s Cracknell’s quieter-than-on-record vocal delivery which provides a timely reminder of the melancholia sitting behind Etienne’s pop sound. The evening’s stand-out ‘Only love can break your heart’, is, well, heartbreaking in its live delivery, sounding less early 90’s Bristol and more Kylie Deconstruction era.
Upbeat, self-humorous, slightly cynical and a little melancholic, Saint Etienne are still choosing to put personal expression first.
Support: Kiro Kiro Bonito