Live: Stereolab's Triumphant Return To S.F. Stage

Singer Laetitia Sadier led the band through a mix of retro-space beat and noisy feedback.

SAN FRANCISCO -- For 25-year-old fan Sylvia Valdez, it was a night she had long been awaiting. Stereolab was back.

And she was there to greet them.

"I've been waiting two years for this show. The last time was supposed to be incredible," she said, referring to Stereolab's memorable 1996 show at the Great American Music Hall.

Despite some technical difficulties, the band held their own on-stage Monday night at the hall, inspiring head-bobbing, dancing and grooving that turned the show into something of a dance fest. Considering that fans were still talking about the last time they played here, Stereolab had a lot to live up to with this tour. But lead singer Laetitia Sadier was ready for the challenge.

Commanding the stage like a French film star, Sadier led Stereolab through another memorable performance. Though Stereolab didn't reach the same transcendent level of their last show here, they kept the audience transfixed. With a set that highlighted their newest release, Dots and Loops, and the 1996 Emperor Tomato Ketchup, Stereolab blended its retro-space beat with layers of feedback at a high decibel level.

Kicking the sealed-tight set open was "Diagonals," with a heavy, melodic bass line, punchy organ, and Sadier and Mary Hansen's elegant harmonies. Guitarist Tim Gane provided swells of feedback over the song, as Sadier smiled with approval.

The smile exemplified Stereolab's amazing interplay on stage. In

interviews, Sadier and Gane, who are romantically linked, have said that

the band is an extension of their relationship. Apparently, theirs is a relationship with long arms that manage to wrap the other band members into the same quietly happy family.

In this family, everybody slips into their own contemplative universe of

perfect, synthesized sounds and layered beats. It was hard to take your eyes off

Farfisa organist Morgane Lhote during "The Flower Called Nowhere." Her eyes slowly closed and a small smile crossed her face, as she drifted away on the music. It's not surprising that she could be set adrift -- after all, she's the person in charge of adding the strange, galactic swirls so characteristic of Stereolab.

However, the synthesizer went on the blink, leaving the band to struggle with wires and amps. Hansen cryptically explained to the crowd, "This is live -- that's the risk you take when you don't watch TV. You might get funny noises."

Still, Stereolab kept on top of its game, tackling even their more complex songs such as "Brakhage" (RealAudio excerpt), from Dots and Loops, without losing momentum. Sadier's concentration on the song never wavered as she sang with Hansen's soprano scat. Perfect waa-waa effects warped Hansen's voice and Lhote's organ notes, as the last half of the song grew in intensity and volume, hitting a

give-me-my-earplugs crescendo. They even brought in the same Moog twitter

featured on the album version of the song.

Yet fan Ian Shelby, 28, wanted Stereolab to take more chances. "When they started having technical problems, they started to sound too much like the album," he said. "It's like they were trying to achieve the sound, rather than just letting it happen, like they did in their shows a few years ago."

Speaking of earlier shows and albums, Stereolab did not delve too deeply

into their history and, thus, strayed from the more large, ambient sound of their early recordings. The recent Dots and Loops and Emperor Tomato Ketchup take a more subdued approach than the all-out wall of sound characteristic of Stereolab's older albums.

Ironically, it was the older work that translated best on stage this time. "Sur des Rosiers Ardents," a lyrically simple song with poignant, albeit child-like phrases, from The Amorphous Body Study Center closed out the first set. During the tune, Sadier and Hansen sing the nonsense phrase "sur des rosiers ardents" (which means "on the ardent rosebushes") in a dissonant harmony. The guitar, organ and sweet voices were weaved tightly together and exploded in a mass of flashing blue, white, violet and green light.

It was a trippy, fantastic way to end the set. And one that surely left many in the crowd mesmerized.

Returning to the stage for an encore, Stereolab kicked into more old music,

with Stomach Worm from Peng! They brought the opening band, Mouse on Mars, in for the late set. The young German duo looked like mad scientists, lost in their beepy sound, turning knobs, hitting keys and trance-dancing to their

stellar noise.

After the show, an enthusiastic Kristin Krupa, 22, couldn't contain her excitement, evangelizing the band to everyone in sight.

"It's like they played every song I've ever wanted to hear!" she shouted.

"It's like they were saying, 'See that girl there in the green dress? These

songs are all for her!' They were vibin' to who knows where!" [Wed., Nov. 26, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]