STEREOLAB @ Cabaret La Tulipe

By Alex Huynh - Losing My Edge - 03/15/2006

It will honestly be difficult to give this show a fair shake, because I have a love/hate relationship with Stereolab. There is the side that most are familiar with -- if the reception to 1996's Emperor Tomato Ketchup is of any indication -- which is the one that leans closer to bossa nova and all that jazz. I find that sequence of albums, from Emperor through Dots and Loops and ending with a thud with Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night, to be well-done and charming -- which is exactly what I don't want my favourite music simply to be. This London band would be easier for me to dismiss if it weren't for that other side: the Krautrock-influenced, hypnotic, noisy pop experiments. We're talking about Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements, the Switched On series and Mars Audiac Quintet. After forgetting about them for years, their recent string of 7" (compiled in the newly released Fab Four Suture) gave me hope that their easy listening side has been downgraded in favour of their more interesting early sound.

Ah, but you see, that's my prerogative. It is absolutely impressive that Stereolab manage to balance these different sides and their discography speaks for itself. So while I might have been slightly dismayed to hear "Miss Modular" from Dots and Loops open the show, I cannot ignore the fact that the execution was perfect. Lætitia Sadier performed with the grace of a jazz singer, cultivating an intimate relationship with her musicians, who were professionalism personified. Here lies the quandary: it was too perfect. It would be inaccurate to accuse the performance as being cold, but the distance was felt. The first six songs mixed different eras of Stereolab and as a result, the highlights were all front-loaded. The jams were moving away from the dreaded funky territory and into a blissful Krautrock one. Then, they treated the audience with a cut from Transient, "Pack Yr Romantic Mind", by far the highlight of the show. I might have a personal bias towards the early Stereolab, but I thought I heard one of the evening's loudest ovation at song's end.

I will not get all dramatic and pretend that this was the turning point and that the night went downhill from there -- Sadier is too much of a charismatic chanteuse and her band too remarkable to allow that to happen. However, as the bossa nova flavour started to permeate slash dominate the set, the show lost a bit of steam. Things remained rather festive -- Sadier promised earlier that nous allons nous amuser ce soir -- but at that point, I understood that the ceiling potential had been reached for the night. No one will deny that this was a good performance. How could it not be, given how safe they played it.

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