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Saint Etienne, The Olympia, 5th October 2002

Everyone has their own Saint Etienne story to tell. You might claim that the group saved your life sometime in the early '90s when grunge was rife and music had entered another annus miserabulus. Or that you came across Saint Etienne on a trendy friend's mix tape. Or maybe you saw Sarah Cracknell on telly in your teens and the love affair began.

Age and childbirth have been kind to the candy-voiced singer. Walking onstage at The Olympia just after midnight, Cracknell looks slim and radiant. Behind her, the rest of the band is lined up behind a big DJ box and overhead, grey images flash on a screen to the delicious strains of 'Heart failed in the back of a taxi'. From there, it's onto the tinglesome 'Goodnight Jack' and realise why you first fell for this remarkable band.

Last Friday saw the release of their new album, "Finisterre", and, unsurprisingly, it gets a good airing tonight. The instrumental, 'The way we live now' sets the scene with a short movie chronicling suburban mundanely (a recurring theme of the band's work) in its backdrop. And how sweet the sound of the suburbs is: 'Shower scene' is vintage Saint Etienne, while 'New thing' is fuzzy and atmospheric, with a crunchy '80s synth sound interlaced with hypnotic vocals. On 'Soft like me', guest singer Wildflower provides a rapping spot, giving a song that could almost too sweet a nice edge.

The last time Saint Etienne played in Ireland, Britpop was talking over the world and CDs cost 13 quid. However, as they perform some of their best pop songs tonight, it's as if time has stood still. 'Nothing can stop us' was a manifesto when released in 1991 and tonight it sounds every bit as fresh, with its cocktail party vocals and '60s flutes. It wouldn't sound out of place alongside the early Cardigans, before they invested in leather pants. Other delights bestowed from their back catalogue include 'Burnt out car', 'Like a motorway' and the much-loved 'Hobart paving' with the audience on accompaniment.

"This for all you disco queens!" grins Cracknell as an intro to 'Sylvie', from the band's popular '98 album "Good Humour". Lots of bums are now off seats as it's impossible to sit still when Saint Etienne reach their poppy heights. The Olympia, with its seats still in place from a play earlier, may not have been the best choice of venue for this. But then what's the alternative? This is a group that have always been hard to classify, proving too infectiously pop for dance music fans and too dancey for serious types.

And yet, their sound is incredibly accessible and mainstream sounding - they really should be appearing on Top of The Pops every second week and selling truckloads of records. In the same week as the ill-fated Will Young releases his debut dirge for the housewives and kiddies, Saint Etienne prove beyond doubt that pure, intelligent, joyous music can still exist. You just have to look a little harder to find it.

Anne-Louise Foley.

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