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Stereolab, The Fillmore, SF, 3/4/06.

The best reason to see Stereolab in concert is that they rock live. This was not what I expected from the band who overall has deviated little from the two-chord, vintage-organ, pop wonders they’ve churned out; when I last saw them on the Dots and Loops tour, their live sound is more aggressive, with the drums higher up in the mix. The emphasis was more on the groove; most people could have very easily danced, except that they chose to hold their beers and dance the indie-concert shuffle.

Last night’s excellent concert was no exception, with a setlist mostly taken from the new Fab Four Suture album. (Although not my favorite track from the collection, “Kyberneticka Babicka Pt. 1!”) The “groop’s” playing was remarkably tight, with Laetitia Sadier receiving much appreciation from the audience. (Projected on the back screen were film loops reminiscent of Brakhage and Harry Smith.) The band started off with “Miss Modular,” threw in a surprise “Pack Yr Romantic Mind,” finished the set with “Cybele’s Reverie,” and then played perhaps my favorite Stereolab track (other than “Pinball”), “Outer Bongolia,” which descended into a whirlpool of squelchy, droney noise. (Mary Hansen’s vocals were sadly missed; in my head I kept filling in the background harmonies.)

(Unfortunately I missed almost of Hot Chip’s set; I really wanted to hear “Playboy.” Hot Chip was even goofier and unfunkier in person.)

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Some sad news

Alas, some sad news: Mary Hansen from Stereolab died in a cycling accident.

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music

Bjork; Stereolab.

Bjork; Stereolab. Two much-anticipated albums were released last week, and I promptly hopped over to Tower Records after my last class on Tuesday to get them.

Bjork‘s Vespertine is a fine, fine album, and it is growing on me with every listen. She has pretty much abandoned her dance diva days, but not necessarily the subject matter — this is still all about big-time sensuality. Each track is a finely-threaded, miniaturized, filigreed, ProTooled work; somehow wisps of jewelled lace come to mind. The album isn’t very melodic in the conventional sense and, as such, borrows more heavily from the theatrics of the Selmasongs album. The highlight comes at the end with “Unison,” the loveliest, most soaring song on Vespertine, but “Hyper-Ballad” it still isn’t. Along with Radiohead’s Amnesiac, this is the most experimental major-label release so far this year.

In contrast, Stereolab‘s Sound-Dust is a rather limp affair and, despite the presence of those fellers from Chicago (not the band Chicago, god no, but the folks from Tortoise / Chicago Underground Duo/Trio etc.), sounds like warmed-over Muzak. I saw them live a year or two ago, touring on the Cobra And Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night album (or maybe it was Dots and Loops), and they rocked, coming across louder and harder in concert than in the studio. But this time the abrupt time changes, Laetitia Sadier’s run-on phrasing, the slightly off-kilter harmonizing — all quite endearing in previous albums — I find oddly cloying and grating somehow.