“Tomorrow is Already Here:” A Decade Passed, Stereolab Returns to Boston

Artwork by Mateo Rispoli

Artwork by Mateo Rispoli

by Mateo Rispoli

“Surely in Boston, you know things don’t get better naturally,” quipped Stereolab lead singer Lætitia Sadier, riffing on the refrain from organ-pop bop “Ping Pong.” On the tenth stop of a tour, ushering in a slew of reissues and a comeback from an 11-year hiatus, Sadier brimmed with an unconcerned, yet gracious energy. She seemed every bit as excited to celebrate her avant-pop band’s achievements as any of the analog nuts that flooded The Royale in Boston. 

New age revival trio Bitchin Bajas opened the night with a few improvisational electronic pieces. Cooper Crain, of Cave fame, took a few particularly crowd-pleasing solos on an array of synths, so encompassing that only his head and shoulders peeked out from behind them; it was as if he was a tank commander surveying the battlefield from the top hatch. The Bajas consumed audiences with polyrhythms and diverse instrumentation abundant; Flute and Korg harmonies reverberated through Royale’s 1000-person room like a symphony of voltages. Their airy and spacious approach to improvisation complemented Stereolab’s Europop flavor, a worthy primer for another band known for their tight jams.

Stereolab tore through a hefty hour and forty minute set of fan favorites and hits on September 29, playing no more than three tracks from each album in their storied catalog (recently reissued on Warp Records and Duphonic). Sadier assuaged an eager audience member’s request for “Lo Boob Oscillator” exclaiming, “Hold your horse!” only to introduce the following track with, “You can release your horse now.” As the set devolved into a full-on, solid wall-of-noise freakout, there is no doubt that (perhaps) the geekiest crowd Boston has ever seen released their horses and rode them all the way to Lexington. 

Stereolab takes us to the “French Disko”

Envious whispers of Sequential OB-6s and Korg Minilogues from the crowd of synth-nerds rang out in between songs. Outside of a few charismatic moments from Sadier, Stereolab doesn’t bother themselves with any aspect of their performance outside of the music; they don’t care for much banter. Guitarist and mainstay Tim Gane (also resident Sixers head coach Brett Brown look-alike) uses the motorik (4/4 beat in krautrock) of songs like the mesmerizing “Metronomic Underground” to envelop himself in a sonic cocoon. A noted adversary to the limelight, Gane, stolid in his stage presence, remained stage right and raked up more noise and funk with his impressively rapid strumming than his outward personality ever let on. 

Stereolab performs the legendary “Percolator” at Pitchfork Music Festival 2019.

While sticking to the record on more straightforward hits, like political rally “Ping Pong” and funky condemnation of silence “Infinity Girl,” Stereolab made a point to give their first live audiences in over a decade a reason to indulge their imaginations on songs built (and listened to) on repetition. A sped-up interpretation of the bass arpeggio-led “Percolator,” following a false start of the first three notes in the allegro record tempo by Sadier, represented all that Stereolab has come to embody as their myth grows and years pass: a sound-shaping band with the tone to back up their immense musicality and influence in post-rock. Stereolab no longer sounds like tomorrow; they are the progenitors of vintage analog whirls and whisks that accent the countless genres that their sound has taken root in.

Stereolab never needed to justify their undoubtedly welcome return. A decade away did nothing to lessen their relevance, and this celebratory retrospective set and comeback tour act as a reminder of their impact.

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