"The Hollywood club is exactly like New York has always been: We are short-staffed, and people are underpaid for doing a lot of great work," says Dorf, who has operated the Knit on a shoestring since 1987, when he opened the first club in a walk-up on East Houston and slept on the floor. He relies on his partnerships with sponsors (including the Voice); after the club moved to Leonard Street, he bartered advertising for a sound system. But he admits that the Hollywood club has been a "very-difficult-to-survive project."

Max isn't worried. "We have a real business; we're not like all those dotcoms. We sell beer here," he says. "In fact, we'll sell more in L.A. this weekend than in New York." —Josh Goldfein

Bar none: trouble at the Knit?
photo: Michael Sofronski
Bar none: trouble at the Knit?

Heart Failed (in the Back of Bowery Ballroom)

Last time they toured, cosmopolitan pop's most enduring mod squad, Saint Etienne, were promoting 1998's Good Humor, which they'd recorded with the Cardigans' producer and Swedish session musicians. The songs' suspicious Ikea finish fell away on stage, along with all misgivings. Point taken: Sheer pop wonderment wins every time. Still, in theory, the London trio had a bigger obstacle to surmount at Bowery Ballroom October 7. Their giddy, intertextual art-disco emulsifies into an ambient balm on Sound of Water (Sub Pop), the obsessively textural new record (filigreed arrangements by German minimalists To Rococo Rot) that, appropriately enough, ripples, gurgles, cascades, and, in its most rhapsodic moments, bubbles over like an inviting warm bath.

Needless to say, this could mean a cold shower live, where the Etienne experience of pretty/sad hook-driven rapture is necessarily at its most primal. But a decade of tireless self-renewal has taught these pop theorists the odd lesson in showmanship, and there's no overstating the in-person charms of hair-flipping chanteuse Sarah Cracknell. Evoking Dusty or Petula one minute, Brigitte Bardot or Debbie Harry the next, Cracknell supplements her all-purpose blond-diva aplomb with a wistful, compassionate delivery that extends to relaxed bonhomie on stage (meanwhile the two furiously interacting backing singers looked like escapees from some drunken karaoke night). With an animated Pete Wiggs manning a bank of keyboards (third member Bob Stanley generally stays home) and a supertight band in tow, the Saints cherry-picked the more song-like of the new songs—"Heart Failed (in the Back of a Taxi)," "Boy Is Crying"—and added club-friendly emphasis. The real point of the night, though, was the dazzling breadth of the back catalog: Good Humor's one-two punch, the amusingly calm sister catfight "Sylvie" and the poignant, anticipatory pre-night-out anthem "Erica America," already seems classic. Is it possible not to be moved by a set that includes the best Neil Young cover ever ("Only Love Can Break Your Heart") and the best (not to mention best-titled) Kraftwerk homage ever ("Like a Motorway")?

They saved their newest, perhaps most amazing stunt for last, closing with Sound of Water's psychotically ambitious "How We Used to Live," a sprawling nine-minute panorama that progresses, with increasing improbability and virtuosity, from orchestral ballad to spangled disco to jazzy shuffle. The encore was never in question—a riot would likely have erupted if they'd left without playing "He's on the Phone," the 1995 semiflop (available only on U.K.-import singles-comp Too Young to Die) since reclaimed by fans, various remixers, and the band itself as the monster hi-NRG classic it always was. It's a testament to Saint Etienne's all-conquering pure-pop sensibility that they've adopted it as their requisite grand finale—maybe not since "Dancing Queen" has a song been so blissfully drunk on its own transcendence. Pop will get off on itself. —Dennis Lim

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