Gig Review: Stereolab @ Club Academy, Manchester, 17th December 2008

It has been an age since I last blogged and I apologise, but since returning from a two week holiday in the States in early November I became, overnight, what I can only describe as a Grumpy Old Man. All enthusiasm for just about anything had waned, and this included music and especially blogging about music. At a time when I should have been taking stock of 2008 and preparing year end lists of albums and gigs I was instead listening to little that didn’t involve Will Oldham or Tom Waits and not remotely looking forward to any of the gigs we had planned between then and Christmas. Things were so bad that I was quite relieved when the record company’s tickets for TV On The Radio didn’t come through on time and I got to spend the evening taking out my frustrations on the football pitch.

Stereolab @ Manchester Club AcademyWith the clouds lifting I was quite looking forward to seeing Stereolab at the Club Academy last Wednesday, but nowhere near as much as I should have been. I had been a few years since they were last in Manchester yet they are second behind The Wedding Present in the list of bands that I have seen the most: this was probably around the 20th time. Still, somewhere along the line I had forgotten exactly how wonderful Stereolab are live and it didn’t take long to be reminded as they began proceedings with the perky rhythms of “Percolator”. With Laetitia Sadier on fine form, having lost none of her considerable charm and Gallic cool in the intervening years, the band played plenty of familiar tunes from days of yore as well as a few choice cuts from the new Chemical Chords record, an album that I have yet to fully get to grips with, it being packed rather too tightly with dense four-minute pop tunes for my liking. Live, and given room to breathe, the Chemical Chords songs really come to life and the likes of “Neon Beanbag” and “Summer Sands” sounded like ‘Lab classics in waiting with Sadier emphasising the point asking us not to be disappointed that they were playing new songs because “in a few years, they will be old songs”.

Of course they played their best known pop gems “French Disko” and “Ping Pong” and they sounded as good as ever while “Cybelle’s Reverie”, played in the encore, was nothing short of incredible. The band are at their best when they lock into a solid hypnotic groove, which they do often, playing with a rare intensity, shooting glances to each other to signal small but perceptible changes in the formula and creating an irresistible sound that you’ll find impossible not to move at least one part of your body to. The lengthy coda to the otherwise serene “Lo Boob Oscillator” was particularly invigorating as was the classic “Stomach Worm” from their debut LP, Peng!, from way back in 1992. “John Cage Bubblegum”‘s combination of a repetitive, insidious groove with a great pop melody was the night’s finest moment as far as I’m concerned and the vociferous adulation of the packed crowd at the end suggested I wasn’t the only one.

With the band sounding tighter than ever this was easily the best I’ve seen from Stereolab since the tragic death of band member Mary Hansen in 2002. They seem to have rediscovered the elements that made them such a compelling live act in the 90s and it was only on the closing “Metronomic Underground” that Mary’s absence was really felt. For me, it was great to rediscover one of my favourite bands and, thanks to Stereolab, the rediscovery of my blogging mojo might not be too far behind.

Stereolab – Self Portrait with “Electric Brain”

Stereolab – Cybelle’s Reverie

Stereolab – Stomach Worm

3 Responses to “Gig Review: Stereolab @ Club Academy, Manchester, 17th December 2008”

  • Jonathan Says:

    Anyone got the setlist for this gig?

  • Paul Says:

    Not strictly anything to do with Stereolab (not at all in fact!!), but just wondered if you guys are planning to go to the Wintersleep gig at the Roadhouse on Feb 17th?? Their new (third) CD is on solid rotation on my CD player.

    Happy New Year!! by the way.

  • Rossie Hott Says:

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