For all its down-tempo moments, Saint Etienne’s 1991 debut, Foxbase Alpha, is an album aglow with a pop energy, buoyed by the insistent rhythms of house music and the then nascent trip-hop genre.
So, as wonderful as it is to see the London band performing the album in its entirety, there is initially something a little sedating about enjoying it from the confinement of our seats. Even at its most mellow, this is music to shuffle about to, shoulders bobbing, heart on fire
Nevertheless, the band delivers a fabulous and faultless show. Singer Sarah Cracknel is in excellent form as is her trusty vocal accompaniment, Debsey Wykes. Behind them Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley — kitted out in gold lamé suits they presumably robbed from ABC — spend their times twiddling knobs to excellent effect.
Moreover, the show’s provocative use of lighting and visuals goes a long way to mitigating the sense of confinement to one’s seat, turning the occasion into an art performance. Referencing film and television imagery from the 1960s and 1970s, the visuals are particularly to the fore during the few instrumentals, most notably ‘Stoned To Say The Least’, which is here rendered as a paranoiac nightmare, courtesy of excerpts of ‘60s actress Helen Fraser’s frightened face.
In fact, the visuals profoundly affect the performance itself, such that ‘Like The Swallow’ is transformed from a pulsating pop song into an occult, electronic hymnal as imagery from ‘The Wicker Man’ corresponds with the weird silhouetting onstage of Wykes’s body.
It goes without saying that the album’s two best known songs, ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’ and their seminal cover of Neil Young’s ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ get the most rapturous reception, but without question the standout is ‘Can’t Sleep’, with Cracknell singing beautifully against a trip-hop beat.
Once ‘Foxbase Alpha’ is out of the way, an encore featuring ‘You’re In A Bad Way’ and the lovely ballad ‘Hobart Paving’ goes down a treat with the fans, Cracknell coaxing us all of our seats at the last.
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