Review: Saint Etienne @ De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, 10/12/2017

Saint Etienne bring their Christmas tour to Bexhill De La Warr Pavillion for a delightful night of 90s indie and dance

Being myself a big fan of Christmas music, I was extremely curious to see what Saint Etienne had cooking when they announced an Xmas-themed December tour ending at Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion.

Considering the band’s always avant-garde approach to music and their passion to celebrate quintessential post-WWII provincial Britain I knew their Christmas show would have been somehow special, especially in such a venue like De La Warr.

The first thing the band say when stepping on stage, in fact, is how fascinating and beautiful the venue is.

The stage is set up for Christmas with lights wrapped all around instruments and band members with sparkling festoons around their necks.

Church Pew Furniture Restorer from the band’s much acclaimed last album Home Counties opens the set followed by a cover of The Mice Set’s Kiss and Make Up interpreted in a pure Saint Etienne style.

Lose That Girl with its spy movie-influenced groove is matched by projections of 1960s space-age film clips, proving the band’s genuine passion for retro pop culture.

Setlist tracks are taken from the whole band’s discography without playing only the most obvious songs as many other affirmed acts do. Saint Etienne definitely prove to still have a good relationship with their past catalogue, but at the same time new tracks like Dive and Magpie Eyes do show they’ve never ran out of creativity adjusting their trademark synthy electro-baggy to more contemporary sounds.

Covers of Candlewick Green’s Who Do You Think You Are and of Margo Guryan’s I Don’t Intend to Spend Christmas Without You – an excellent 1968 song with a ye-ye vibe and the first proper Xmas-themed track of the night – show Saint Etienne’s love for cover versions, always done in their original and unique way. There’s nothing to be surprised about, especially if we consider their breakthrough single Only Love Can Break Your Heart was a 90s re-interpretation of a Neil Young number.

The tune is played by the end of the gig followed soon after by Nothing Can Stop Us – a winning combo that finally makes the audience move and dance like it was 1991 again.

The meflancholic dance of She’s On the Phone is the perfect slightly cinematic and dramatic finale to an excellent gig where Saint Etienne – upgraded to seven elements including vocals, guitar, bass, drums, keys, trumpet and violin added to the classic voice and synth trio line-up – provided classes of indie and dance to all those young bands fiddling with synths and computer softwares.

Singer Sarah Cracknell still delivers soft and warm vocal lines with an incredible charm and enthusiasm, resulting in one of the most charismatic singers seen live. Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs prove to have mastered their key skills to perfection through time.

A highly Christmassy three songs encore ends the night and the tour. Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas sung with special guest Steve Mason (Beta Band) is dedicated to its songwriter who is currently suffering the aftermath of a stroke. Train Drivers in Eyeliner and Matt Berry’s I Was Born on Christmas Day put a triumphant end to the gig.

Despite the audience was mostly over-30, teenagers should rush to buy a Saint Etienne compilation because the Kent band is still far from death and clichés differently from other former 90s indie and Britpop acts. Saint Etienne’s unique 60s-inspired blend of dance and baggy has stood the test of time resulting in one of the most original products of 1990s UK indie scene.

 

Lorenzo Ottone

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