Stereolab at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, VA | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, December 9th, 2022  

Stereolab

Stereolab at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, VA, October 12th, 2022

Nov 09, 2022 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern
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European legacy bands don’t often perform in secondary markets on North American tours. As someone who lives in central Virginia I can attest that when looking at newly announced tour dates of bands from the UK and mainland Europe, it’s rare to see them even stop in our state. Often they will play a Washington, D.C. or Baltimore show and then skip right over our state and next head to North Carolina (or vice versa). Every once in a while foreign bands might play our capitol city, Richmond, two hours drive away. And this is even doubly so with well-established artists. So imagine my surprise when it was announced that the influential British/French band Stereolab, who came to prominence in the 1990s and whose guitarist/co-founder Tim Gane I interviewed way back in Issue 2 of Under the Radar in 2002, was coming to Charlottesville, a little more than an hour a way from us.

I first saw the band in my youth, opening for Pulp at the Brixton Academy in December 1995, with the headliners freshly releasing their landmark Different Class album and Stereolab touring behind the Refried Ectoplasm (Switched On Volume 2) compilation and only three months away from releasing one of their more accessible albums, Emperor Tomato Ketchup. I don’t remember when I last saw Stereolab live, perhaps around the time of 2001’s Sound-Dust or 2004’s Margerine Eclipse, so their show at Charlottesville’s Jefferson Theater on a weeknight in October was much anticipated for a couple of parents to a nine-year-old daughter out on a kid-free school night.

My fear was that the Jefferson would be half empty at best. I had once seen Dan Deacon there and that was the case. Was there a big audience for Stereolab in Charlottesville in 2022, even though it’s a fairly cool college town? And we only had a couple of other friends who were going. So my wife (and Under the Radar’s co-publisher/co-founder) Wendy and I were pleasantly surprised to find the venue packed, nearly sold-out.

Lætitia Sadier
Lætitia Sadier

The band ran through something of a greatest hits set, while also playing selections from the recently released singles, B-sides, and rarities compilation, Pulse of the Early Brain (Switched On Volume 5). It took them a song or two to adjust the sound and truly find their groove, but once they did Stereolab were locked in for a good hour and a half or so. About a week prior to the show I had done some online research into which songs they had been playing at other shows in 2022 (set lists were easy to find) and I put together a three-hour playlist of songs they had been rotating through their setlists, along with some others I held out hope they might still play. And I was glad I did this because there were certainly songs I was less familiar with or didn’t know at all on that playlist that they ended up playing that night. It also put expectations in check when I knew not to expect them to play some of my personal favorite Stereolab songs (such as “Cybele’s Reverie,” “International Colouring Contest,” “Need to Be,” “Fluorescences,” and “Ping Pong,” none of which showed up on any recent set list). The playlist did lead me to my new favorite Stereolab song, “Supah Jaianto,” from the band’s last full-on studio album, 2010’s Not Music. It was the third song they played at the Jefferson (following “Neon Beanbag” and “Laissez Faire”) and perhaps the first to truly capture the audience. By song six, fan favorite “Miss Modular,” singer Lætitia Sadier remarked to the crowd: “You dance really well. It’s energizing.”

It was pleasantly surprising that the audience weren’t all white-haired. Sure, there was a strong showing from forty- and fifty-somethings, but there were also some college-aged and twenty- and thirty-somethings in attendance, including some who weren’t even alive during Stereolab’s initial heyday in the mid ’90s.

Tim Gane
Tim Gane

The centerpiece of the show was probably the 17-minute long “Refractions in the Plastic Pulse,” which took just as many detours as the album version (on 1997’s Dots and Loops) does. At one point Stereolab approached My Bloody Valentine levels of noise, validating our decision not to bring our daughter to the show. And here it’s worth pointing out what an amazing guitarist Tim Gane is, something that’s not always apparent in studio recordings from the band—the way he sometimes almost attacked his instrument with much fervor and also manipulated his effects pedals. Sadier later commented how much cleaner the air was in Charlottesville compared to Brooklyn, NY, where they had played the night before, and said she’d like to return to the city for a holiday someday. After the rapturously received four-song encore of “The Free Design,” “French Disko,” and “Simple Headphone Mind” which bled into “Excursions Into ‘Oh, A-Oh’”—most audience members were hoping that it also wouldn’t be long for Saider and Stereolab to return to Charlottesville for more than a vacation. Here’s hoping that other like bands follow their lead and also come to Charlottesville, although next week we’re driving all the way to Philadelphia to see British ’90s icons Suede and Manic Street Preachers (the closest city where Suede are playing last during the co-headlining tour).

www.stereolab.co.uk

Lætitia Sadier
Lætitia Sadier
Lætitia Sadier
Lætitia Sadier
Tim Gane
Tim Gane
Lætitia Sadier
Lætitia Sadier
Lætitia Sadier
Lætitia Sadier
Tim Gane
Tim Gane
Stereolab
Stereolab

The Stereolab T-shirt we bought at the show.
The Stereolab T-shirt we bought at the show.

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