Saint Etienne isn’t usually counted among modern music’s more party-starting combos, but the sleek Brit trio — outfitted with one extra member for a brief stateside tour — managed to generate plenty of heat at this soldout Gotham gig.
Opening with a gently percolating “Heart Failed in the Back of a Taxi” — its serpentine romanticism redolent of vintage Roxy Music — the group quickly entered glide mode, with synthesizers buoying Sarah Cracknell’s torchy tone. While Cracknell is often perceived as detached, there was nothing remote about her perf: Yes, in a musical cosmos dominated by mike-toting aerobics instructors, she’s a relatively static presence — but her low-key warmth proved rapidly contagious.
Set was peppered with songs from band’s new Beggars Banquet album “Finisterre,” which stands as something of a departure from more lounge-ish past work. Both Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley — who stayed largely in the background this evening — were inclined to lean a bit more heavily on the beat controls of their sequencers, pushing the focus of “The Way We Live Now” away from the heart and toward the hips.
Cracknell, sultry as ever in shimmering red couture, served as the primary visual focus — particularly when the backing faded to a whisper on “Stop and Think It Over” or “Hobart Paving.” Sporadic use of fugue-state video — said to be drawn from a forthcoming full-length “Finisterre” film — paid homage to Lindsay Anderson, magnified both the idiosyncrasies and intimacies of the band’s particularly British worldview.
Opener Dot Allison — formerly of blessed-out Scot combo One Dove — navigated the more organic end of the sonic spectrum with a loping gait. Strumming an acoustic guitar and delivering icy meditations on love slipping through the cracks, Allison offered us a glimpse inside her psyche, but never out and out demanded we look.