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Gig review: Saint Etienne play Good Humor in full at the British Library

PUBLISHED: 17:23 18 October 2018 | UPDATED: 09:20 22 October 2018

Saint Etienne performing during the Good Humor show at the British Library on October 13. Picture: Steven Kemp

Saint Etienne performing during the Good Humor show at the British Library on October 13. Picture: Steven Kemp

Steven Kemp

Indie favourites take their Good Humor LP out the garage and into the British Library for a live outing on its 20th anniversary

Sarah Cracknell pictured at the V98 festival promoting Good Humor - first time around. Picture: Ben Curtis/PA ArchiveSarah Cracknell pictured at the V98 festival promoting Good Humor - first time around. Picture: Ben Curtis/PA Archive

Good Humor, the first of many comebacks for the reliably unreliable Saint Etienne, is a polite, sculpted album.

And though it produced one of their biggest hits, it was fairly off-menu for a band that had recently enough put out Like a Motorway and He’s on the Phone. They’d always been hip but Good Humor was acoustic, Scandinavian, measured, even grown-up in a way Foxbase Alpha and So Tough certainly weren’t. At times it strayed into 1960s pastiche; moments later it was foreshadowing the Kings of Convenience with muted cool, polo neck sweaters and exposed wood panelling.

An unlikely candidate, maybe, for cult status in 2018, but it is for (and with) Good Humor that Saint Etienne assemble in the foyer of the British Library.

The building was understandably not designed for pop concerts and unfortunately it shows: the audience is surrounded by staircases and vast empty space, a setting whose acoustics might just about work for a rave with the right lighting, but which struggles hopelessly with anything delicate.

Turns out it doesn’t matter, because the crowd knows virtually every word of every song, and the camaraderie is plenty to fill in the gaps. Sarah Cracknell’s voice is perhaps the best I’ve heard it on stage – this is more of a singer’s album than some St Et offerings and she seems to delight in recounting it.

Perhaps because of Good Humor’s obscure status there’s a real sense of surprise and rediscovery that greets the album tracks as they are hauled out of storage. Performances of Been So Long, Goodnight Jack, Split Screen and Erica America shimmer with live percussion, keyboards and Debsey’s inimitable guest vocals, as does the ever-fabulous Sylvie. Only The Bad Photographer disappoints slightly, as middle-of-the-road now as it was last time you heard it, a song the LP could have survived without.

A greatest hits set fills the second half of the show – and Hug My Soul, Hobart Paving and You’re in a Bad Way particularly hit the spot. It’s a shame to hear nothing from Sound of Water or Finisterre, two of their best albums, but perhaps they’ll get outings of their own when they hit 20.


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