It might be 1991’s Foxe Base Alpha silver anniversary, but it sounds fresher than ever, as this once heavenly band reach Heaven, thankfully in one piece, to play its entirety. Saint Etienne’s debut album was as synonymous with the rave generation as the Jam sound-tracked the Mods, and was peppered with samples, few seizing the zeitgeist quite like ‘Can I have an E, Bob?” from Blockbusters. It’s ironic that tonight singers Sarah Cracknell and Debs are sitting down to enjoy that particular reference this evening.
Of course when sequencing an album, you’re not thinking about playing it live 25 years later, and there’s a touch of (misplaced) reluctance to open with their definitive version of Neil Young’s Only love can break your heart. It’s an energetic start, followed by the elegantly claustrophobic Carnt sleep. What was once a prescient consequence of clubbing, these days it’s more likely to be costly loft extensions giving the crowd sleepless nights than class A’s.
The folk pop of Spring paved the way for later hit You’re in a bad way, which also gets an airing tonight, once Foxe Base closes and the gig morphs into a live rendition of their greatest hits Too young to die. However before then, the surprise tonight is the effectiveness of a pleading She’s like a Swallow, as it drifts from ambient noodling, through hypnotic chanting – ‘She’s like the river that never runs dry’ – into the sumptuous acid squelch of an old 808.
Nothing can stop us arrives like only the opening track of side 2 can, a call to arms that may have never happened. 25 years suddenly feels a long time ago. As the album closes it’s with relief from the band, who can finally control the set list. Q-Tee arrives to rap early b-side Filthy, which lives up to its name and captures a west London when Talkin’ Loud trip-hop jostled happily alongside house music.
The Italo disco of Join our club and Kiss and Make up demonstrates how they always had tunes to spare. But the highlight is Hobart paving. Always their warmest of songs, tonight its plea of ‘don’t forget to catch me’, effortlessly resonates with a grinning crowd, who gustily sing it back. For a moment those missed kisses of youthful summers return. A new album is promised, but for tonight Saint Etienne have found the future their nostalgia was always searching for.
Tom Hocknell’s debut novel The Life Assistance Agency was published on 22nd September by Urbane Publishing and is not written in the 3rd person. Available here – myBook.to/lifeassistance