Officially here as tonight’s support act, with headliners St Etienne describing them as “proper heroes of ours”, 80s sophisti-pop act Scritti Politti – led by Green Gartside, the band’s only constant member since their formation in 1977 – manage to do the unspeakable and steal the show from under the noses of their hosts.
St Etienne and Scritti Politti
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While St Etienne’s mix of house and dance-pop is enjoyable enough, it’s Scritti’s fusion of soul, funk, reggae and hip-hop into one polished piece of pristine pop that fires the imagination.
“Unedifying as it is to see a middle-aged white man rap – f*** it, it’s my time to shine!” laughs Gartside self-deprecatingly before launching into Die Alone, his collaboration with Mos Def. In fact, the Welshman shows little of the crippling stage fright that has at times blighted his career, joking throughout in between songs like Absolute, Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin) and a rendition of Jeru the Damaja’s Come Clean.
And although it might be only a dozen or so tracks long, St Etienne’s set feels somewhat bloated in comparison.
A cover of Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas, consisting almost entirely of soft guitar and vocals, makes for an incongruous inclusion alongside synthy, backbeat-heavy compositions like You’re In a Bad Way or Sylvie.
They undoubtedly still have the ability to ramp things up a notch, though, as a few small enclaves of hardy perennials emboldened enough by the beats (and possibly the beers) to relive their youth to tunes like Only Love Can Break Your Heart and He’s On The Phone could attest.
But it’s 2007 release When I Was Seventeen that’s perhaps most apt this evening.
Twenty years ago, when many of tonight’s attendees were in that age bracket, the crowd would have been a heaving, throbbing sweat-fest, not a gently swaying sea of bobbing heads.
And while advancing years may well be a contributing factor to the slightly muted atmosphere, the main issue is that, like many dance outfits, despite sounding good, they’re not much cop to watch play live.
Their music is best appreciated dancing in a club, not having to stand gazing in reverent worship at a gig.