Live Review: Saint Etienne at U Street Music Hall, Washington, DC – 27th September 2017

By on Friday, 29th September 2017 at 1:00 pm
 

There are some bands that you know will always put on a good show. Further, if it’s a band who have survived the test of time, the odds are even better. So naturally, I went into the Saint Etienne show in Washington Wednesday night knowing I was in for a good time. There was a nearly 30-minute delay to their start, despite there being no opening act. Also, I think they made some questionable choices in their set list. Despite all that, Sarah Cracknall and co., which included five additional live members to Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs on synths, put on a show that got their audience grooving. Well, as much as the U Street Music Hall crowd of mostly bespectacled men with varying degrees of baldness could stand. (Sorry, couldn’t resist. It’s a very strange feeling to be stuck in a crowd of men, some of whom barely moved for the entire set except to snuffle, take a photo of the gyrating Cracknall with their phones, then resume with almost stony-faced immobility.)

We'rre Actually Very Tired Saint Etienne

Saint Etienne were in town to promote their latest album released in June, their 9th called ‘Home Counties’, a love letter to the commuter towns of London from where they themselves came from. You can read my review of the LP here. Before they got onstage, an impressive array of equipment was already set up, while a series of phrases in English droll wit, in the font on ‘Home Counties’, shuffled on the projection screen behind. “Contains Thematic Elements!” “We’re Actually Very Tired!” But of all of them, “Skilled Musicians With Over Twenty-Five Years Experience!” was my favourite, as if to remind any young whippersnappers in the audience that Saint Etienne had been around the block and could teach them a thing or two.

Saint Etienne Washington September 2017 1

Shortly before 8:30, they went on to rapturous applause from the audience who had been patiently waiting since doors had opened an hour and a half earlier, not to mention 5 years since their last show here. What followed after the pastoral instrumental interlude of ‘Church Pew Furniture Restorer’ was a pretty good mish-mash of old favourites with ‘Home Counties’ tracks mixed in. On ‘Out of My Mind’, you’re reminded how beautiful Cracknall’s voice still is, as well as just how good Stanley and Wiggs are at crafting a pop melody. The song chugs along at the perfect pace for pop to be able to let the lyrics sink in, and Cracknall’s delivery of them is both pleasing in their rhymes and heart-breaking. I nearly cried. The disco beat-thumping ‘Dive’, another track from their latest record, was introduced as the #1 vinyl single in the UK, which seems to suggest quite discerning tastes of the record buying British public, doesn’t it?

Saint Etienne Washington September 2017 2

Played live, songs from 1998’s ‘Good Humor’ and 2012’s ‘Words and Music’ are a good reminder how consistently Saint Etienne have been over the years as an electropop group. ‘Lose That Girl’ and ‘Sylvie’ from “our electro-folk days”, Cracknall quipped, seem simpler than you might have thought before from the records. Then the synth-dense ‘I’ve Got Your Music’ brings you firmly into the 21st century. Not all bands give you the opportunity to yearn for their songs from totally different eras.

I was sure that they would play the minor key wonder ‘Heather’ from the new record in the encore, but they chose to play ‘Train Drivers in Eyeliner’ instead. (I also wondered what happened with ‘You’re in a Bad Way’, as it too was omitted.) My train drivers are welcome to wear whatever makeup they so choose but as I described in my album review, it’s a strange duck indeed. The sweeping ‘Take It All In’, of a similar speed and played in the earlier in the set, is a far better choice to showcase Cracknall’s voice. Still, all was not lost: ‘He’s on the Phone’ brought things back up tempo to close the night on a high.

Saint Etienne Washington September 2017 3

After the cut: Saint Etienne’s set list.

Saint Etienne Set List:
Church Pew Furniture Restorer
Kiss and Make Up
Lose That Girl
Who Do You Think You Are
Whyteleafe
Hug My Soul
Magpie Eyes
Take It All In
Like a Motorway
Dive
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Tonight
Nothing Can Stop Us Now
Sylvie
//
Stop and Think It Over
Train Drivers in Eyeliner
He’s on the Phone

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One Response

7:50 pm
12th October 2017

Agree with all of your assessment. What a great show! Their music is so joyous and I honestly don’t think a better covers exist than Who Do you Think You Are and Only Love can Break your Heart. I was floating for days.

Odd choices for encores, sort of an energy gap, with the exception of He’s On the Phone, which may never have been available in the US? I was sort of freaked at how boring/old the crowd was, though I am no spring chicken. I was grooving enough for at least 5 old bald guys.

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