It’s tough work striking out on your own. You ditch your band, one so heavily respected as Stereolab, legends of the scene and sound you created. What are you left with? Apparently, a sparsely attended show in a small-ish venue in Brooklyn. However, such quantitative judgments certainly sell short the late period achievements of Stereolab’s centerpiece Laetitia Sadier. It’s been three years since the official dissolution of the band, and the intervening years have seen Sadier take her hypnotic voice in more organically minded contexts. Whether in collaboration with Bradford Cox or on her two recent solo records, Sadier has largely shunned the future-lounge aspects of Stereolab, while retaining the locked grooves and playful melodicism.
Such efforts were certainly on display on Saturday night, despite the disappointingly meager crowd. Though embarking solely on a journey through material drawn from her two solo records, Sadier (along with a bass player and drummer-keyboardist Jim Elkington) took the best elements of Stereolab’s iconic sound and applied them to this largely orchestral and organic new material.
Opening with “The Rule Of The Game,” (the Renoir-inspired lead track from Sadier’s 2012 effort Silencio) the band burbled and warped their way through a taut nearly hour long set. It was marked by echo, by repetition, by familiar phrases slowly popping back into the conscious experience of the songs. Though much of Silencio’s more maligned material deals with explicit demonizations of current political and economic states, their presence here was more light and pleasant, functioning as echoes to previously spouted ideals rather than affected attempts at righteous anger. Even at her most socially conscious of the night, Sadier’s banter hit its mark largely in a joking manner–unleashing screams and then remarking how she’ll break her voice, labeling a particularly dead warble out of her amp as the “sound of democracy.” There’s potent ideals here, but unlike on Silencio, here you can see her smirk. Her attempts at political songwriting, such as the Elkington assisted “There is a Price to Pay For Freedom (And It Isn’t Security),” land more clearly in a live setting because of her obvious demeanor. Given her good spirits, all self-seriousness is out the door. As over the top as the ideals behind “Auscultation to the Nation” may seem when Sadier explains them, her broken phrasing and typically trance-y vocal take transmute such political ideals into an entirely pleasant pop song, a fact even more evident in her wild gesticulations when the song’s played live.
It’s not that Sadier’s post-Stereolab work is lacking in any manner. She’s made enough of a departure that it should be able to stand without vehement comparison to her previous band’s work, but in a live context she, and her band, recapitulate some of the inclinations of the previous band, locking into grooves for minutes at a time. Sure, these are tracks are still even more pop minded than Stereolab material, but when she gets on stage the tracks transform into eyes-closed, whispered meditations on issues more important than many artists today are willing to tackle. Earlier I used the word hypnotic to describe Sadier’s voice in particular, but it could be more generally applied to her band’s entire set on Saturday night. Despite any impressions or preconceived notions you might have about her solo material, you’d be hard pressed to remain unswayed by the buoyant and elastic sweep of her live performance.