Sunday, 17 May 2009

Saint Etienne at Bloomsbury Ballroom

Saint Etienne to celebrate the eighteenth birthday of their debut album, Foxbase Alpha, by playing it live in its entirety? Yes please! Since my copy of that album was on a long-ago lost cassette it's fair to say that I haven't listened to it for over a decade. I've listened to plenty of Saint Etienne's other output but couldn't actually remember a lot of that first album. My loss, I'm an idiot.

The Bloomsbury Ballroom proved an excellent venue, good size and acoustics and with a cool bar in a corridor. Saint Etienne have always cultivated a loyal fanbase and the band were very warmly received as they entered the stage to the sounds of the radio show at the start of the album. Then Only Love Can Break your Heart started and I was in pop heaven. During the next forty minutes the diversity of Foxbase Alpha was made apparent to me in a way I'd never really appreciated. It's pop perfection but it takes many forms: dub, deep house, 60's pop pastiche, ambient blah blah blah. It's all here.

Girl VII and London Belongs To Me are utterly charming. Stoned To Say The Least is cool and dark and funky, like a very chilled Underworld. Nothing Can Stop Us Now is so cute and cuddly you could put in a big pink box, tie it with a red ribbon and give it to a five year old girl as a birthday present. Like A Swallow is epic and beautiful and sounds like the best thing I've ever heard. Then the band walk off for five minutes (they actually said they'd be five minutes! How sweet?) before returning to play some more recent favourites.

Method Of Modern love is their latest single and shows the band have lost absolutely nothing over the years. The quality of their output has never faltered and every song played during the second half was a winner. When I'm old(er) and grey(er) and someone says to me "Old man, I've read that there was something called pop music years ago. What was it like?" I'll just play them Who Do You Think You Are? and all will be clear. And then I might spoil them and play Sylvie as well. Sylvie is genius, like the story from a John Hughes film with an added Hitchcock-ian twist told via the medium of epic euro-pop. It always makes me cry.

The encore includes He's On The Phone, an absolute high point in modern popular music. Pop really has few finer moments to offer than Sarah Cracknell's spoken (not sung or whispered, but spoken. Or maybe cooed) Yes at the start of the chorus. It's a glorious end to a fantastic evening. I leave convinced that there has been no finer purveyor of pop music in modern times than Saint Etienne.


Watoo Watoo said...

It was a great gig, I agree.

Didn't you seen Go Kart Mozart?

btw, I put some pictures here:

Ian said...

I was late for Go Kart Mozart, I'll have to catch them another time.

Thanks for the link to the pics, they're great! xx