The final day of Heavenly Recordings' 18th birthday celebration saw indie dance pioneers Saint Etienne descend on the Southbank stage. Without a glowstick or neon T-shirt in sight, it seemed that "old rave" had slumped into middle age.
Indeed, the first 20 minutes of Saint Etienne's set had the feel of awkward strangers at a dinner party – musical small talk, band smiling politely, audience nodding appreciatively, everyone secretly looking for an exit. All devastatingly well-behaved – until a couple of audience members had the audacity to leave their seats and dance, to the disapproval of a security guard. Defending the dancers, vocalist Sarah Cracknell got a round of applause – and almost immediately, most of the audience were up and dancing. In the end, it was a triumph.
As Saint Etienne burst into their version of the Neil Young classic, "Only Love Can Break Your Heart", the early decorum was swept away. Cracknell, now in her forties, was part yummy Hampstead mummy, part sultry sex kitten. Draped in an aubergine feather boa, she retains that subtle sexuality that has an audience melting in her presence.
The epic sweep of "Burnt Out Car" shimmered with spangly guitars and wailing synths. Indie-pop hopefuls Black Kids should take note. In places the music was semi-robotic, such was the tightness and precision of the playing, but this never marred the performance.
With its Lightning Seeds-esque melodies, "You Know He's Mine" took us straight back to the early Nineties. The piano loops and drum patterns may sound clichéd post-Britpop, but it's important to remember just how groundbreaking Saint Etienne's sampling pop was.
Then the band began to reel out the hits. The camp posturing of "Who Do You Think You Are" was akin to Abba in places, with its subtle undercurrent of melancholy firmly beaten back by an upbeat rhythm.
But it was Cracknell who was the star of the show, even as she thanked security for allowing the dancing to continue. Saint Etienne closed with a euphoric rendition of "He's On the Phone", and band and audience dashed off upstairs to kiss on a pile of coats in the bedroom... metaphorically, at least.Reuse content