While St. Etienne has never garnered more than modest record sales in the U.S., the British trio has earned a dedicated cult following. The Chicago branch of this cult seemed to be out in full force to see the group perform in support of its latest album, Sound of Water at House of Blues. The enthusiastic audience was as much a part of the show as the band, putting on an unapologetic display of hero worship, which seemed fairly ironic given the casual and down-to-earth nature of the band members.
When lead vocalist Sarah Cracknell, an unscrubbed beauty who could easily pass for an Ivory Girl, made her “big entrance,” she simply sauntered about the stage waving at the crowd. Despite impassioned cries of “We love you, Sarah!” Cracknell kept sweetly calm throughout the set, effortlessly breezing through her lovely, ‘60s style songs while dancing only sporadically and quite shyly. Meanwhile, Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley worked like mad wizards, letting Cracknell act as the band’s voice and focal point while they concentrated strictly on the music. Stanley made for a particularly adorable vision, looking oddly reminiscent of Rob during his DJ sequences in High Fidelity as he swayed along to the music from behind his synthesizer.
The backing band, which included a guitarist, bassist, drummer, and two female vocalists, was tight and focused throughout the performance, so much so that they seemed more like part of the group than hired hands. The backing singers were particularly entertaining as they gyrated in their slit-to-here skirts and picked up random silly percussion instruments such as triangles, cowbells, and tambourines. But, hell, they had good voices, so who could slight them?
While the crowd probably would have applauded had Sarah Cracknell simply farted into her microphone, it really went wild when the group launched into older hits such as “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and “Nothing Can Stop Us.” Although St. Etienne was promoting a new release, the group wisely alternated older hits into the set, and even offered two unexpected treats: an upcoming release called “Shoot Down the Lights,” and “Ready or Not,” a track from Cracknell’s solo album.
During the band’s last of two encores, Cracknell bent down to shake hands with some of the fans at the edge of the stage. One of them shrieked in disbelief, “She touched me!” Quite likely, even the fans who didn’t get a handshake felt the same way.