all saints are back on the stage

We went down to the reunited foursome's comeback gig last night to find the girls as great as ever.

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Apr 5 2016, 4:07pm

When the reunited All Saints gave their first interview to i-D in January, they described playing live as "the thing we did the least of [back in the day], but which we enjoyed the most". This makes tonight's comeback gig at KOKO in London, the group's first headline show in 17 years, feel even more special. Many fans who grew up in the late 90s singing hits like Never Ever and Pure Shores (and maybe imitating the girls' iconic crop top and combat pants look) are probably seeing the group for the first time.

Fortunately, the reformed four-piece - Melanie Blatt, Shaznay Lewis and sisters Natalie and Nicole Appleton - don't disappoint a sell-out crowd. Following their band on stage to the crowd's roars, they open with the sharp rhythmic blast of 2006's underrated Chick Fit before delivering a trio of big hits, I Know Where It's At, Bootie Call and Rock Steady, that each becomes a mass singalong. Busting out a full-scale dance routine has never really been All Saints' style, but tonight's set is accessorised by choreography that looks slick without feeling stiff: pointed fingers, raised palms, group struts forward that some fans won't be able to resist copying on the walk back to the tube.

All Saints then debut a couple of super-melodic new tracks, One Woman Man and This Is a War, before Natalie Appleton asks if "anyone fancies a coffee?" and Black Coffee obviously follows. The group is joined by rapper Cleo for sassy new tune Ratchet Behaviour and show off their flawless four-part harmonies on Red Flag, their upcoming album's title track. By this point, each group member has had chance to address the crowd, clearly moved by the warm response. Local girls the Appleton sisters explaining that KOKO is an especially emotional venue for them because as teenagers, they used to queue up to dance here. "Tonight's the first time I've got in," Nicole jokes.

Two more old favourites follow, their chart-topping cover of Red Hot Chili Peppers' Under the Bridge and the finger-clicking ballad War of Nerves, before All Saints end their main set with lush new song Pieces. Before they leave the stage, the four group members stand still for a moment holding hands. It's a touching image from these four women whose past squabbles have been well documented, but who now seem to be getting on better than ever.

Their encore is the night's rousing highlight, as sleek new single One Strike is greeted nearly as gleefully as golden oldies Never Ever and Pure Shores. On tonight's evidence, All Saints are navigating the pop comeback trail with class and a reassuring lack of desperation. The new songs from their album Red Flag, out this Friday, reaffirm the group's reputation for making superior pop music and their full UK tour this October should be a hot ticket. A line from new song One Woman Man feels significant: "Sometimes is it better to let go?" Sometimes, yes, but in the case of All Saints, definitely not.

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Text Nick Levine