Stereolab: The right band at the wrong time

Stereolab: The right band at the wrong time
File photo of Stereolab

Stereolab provided a reminder of their 1990s glory at Vicar Street in Dublin, writes Ed Power

Having materialised just as Britpop was about to eat the Cool Britannia indie scene alive, Stereolab always felt like the right band trapped in the wrong time.

Lætitia Sadier’s Francophone singing and jazzy keyboards conjured with Sixties euro-pop; Tim Gane’s driving guitars drew on, yet were never entirely in hock to, psychedelia and krautrock. That they breathed the same air as Blur and Oasis felt preposterous.

So it was surprising just how of the 1990s Stereolab sounded as they returned from a 10-year hiatus (their initial split prompted by the end of Sadier and Gane’s relationship).

Arriving in darkness, to the strains of a stuttering Dalek, they delivered 90 minutes or so of polite art-pop.

It was a performance that felt calibrated to sweep an attendance almost as vintage as Stereolab’s careworn synthesisers back to the pre-internet days of weekly music magazines and artists who weren’t afraid of waxing pretentious.

Stereolab always took themselves seriously – but not to the point where it got in the way of their music. That again proved the case, with the charismatic Sadier grinning when an over-enthusiastic fan kept shouting how much she loved her.

There was something tremendously wry about their anti-glamour, too. Sadier was dressed in fashionable black. Gane and the troops, though, were all done in up white shirts and sensible trousers, so that they could have passed for a quintet of middle-managers on a crazy night out.

The songs, by contrast, were often stoic with bells on. French Disko was a monochrome chugger in which Gane’s guitar played off Sadier’s quietly devastated singing. Even better – and certainly longer – was Need To Be, an epic that counterpointed Sadier’s gloomy vocals with a downbeat synth line. It was easy to see why a new generation, Tyler, the Creator, among them have become addicted to Stereolab’s precision-tooled melancholia.

Sadier occasionally cooed in her native French while her keyboards evoked the twirling sophistication of Continental pop. There were even glimmerings of her Gallic Nineties contemporaries Air. Deeper in, with Gane in the cockpit, Stereolab set the controls for the heart of the krautrock section of your favourite, long-shuttered, record store. Here and elsewhere woozy and wonderful existed in perfect, starry-eyed harmony.

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