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This was my first time seeing SAINT ETIENNE and I was really looking forward to it as their most recent album, 2005’s Tales from Turnpike House, has been in heavy rotation here recently. Allegedly, this is also their last album and tour, so if that’s the case (say it ain’t so) [There was no discussion of such plans when I interviewed them this month. -ed.], at least I got a chance to catch their live set.
Anyhow, by the time we found a free parking spot (a very hard thing to do on a Saturday night in the tourist-heavy section of Hollywood near where the club is on Vine Street), we missed the openers and got there right on time for Saint Etienne’s set. Having never seen them before, I didn’t know what to expect, but instead of just a vocalist (the lovely SARAH CRACKNELL) and DJs (BOB STANLEY and PETE WIGGS), they also came out with a guitarist [multi-instrumentalist JAMES WALBOURNE of ROYAL GUN, who previously toured with PERNICE BROTHERS -ed.] bass player [Longtime producer IAN CATT -ed.] and a live drummer as well. The set consisted mainly of material from Tales from Turnpike House, though it was good to hear two songs (“Sylvie” and “Split Screen”) from 1998’s masterful Good Humor. These songs fit into the set well because the full band lineup let them incorporate songs from that album as well as the new one, which combine their Eurodisco and synth-pop leanings with good old-fashioned ‘60s rock. They also played a few older songs and covers which I admittedly didn’t recognize since I’m much more familiar with their newer material.
Although I thought that they played well, I also thought that the limitations of Sarah Cracknell’s light, breathy voice came into play and furthermore, the crowd just didn’t seem to be into it at all aside from when they played their more dance-ish material like “Stars Above Us” from the new album along with “Action” (a huge international pop hit in almost every country except the U.S., it’s from 2002’s underrated Finisterre). Furthermore, while Avalon, which felt more like a dance club than a rock venue, was in some ways ideal for Saint Etienne’s dance-heavy sound, in other ways its slickness and $10 mixed drinks left something to be desired, though the sound was generally good.
Thus, while I definitely enjoyed the show, I thought it could have been better. [Check out great earlier LPs Foxbase Alpha, So Tough, and Tiger Bay in order to appreciate just how good were the parts of show, which I had attended five days earlier in New York, that featured old material! -ed.]
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