Photos & Review by Sheldon Ang
Sadier casts a troubled stare at Gane, miming words in between lyrics as if something isn’t going as planned. The guitarist (and ex-lover of Sadier) shrugs; it seems they’ll have to improvise ‘Come and Play in the Milky Night’ – a diversion from their usual opening track ‘Anamorphose’ of the previous shows.
There’s little crowd interaction as Sadier remains stoic, like the chief sniper of the French Foreign Legion. Occasionally, the lead vocalist affords the audience a smile, but the kind that doesn’t emit a ray of light. While we remain indifferent to her stage presence, the band with a cult following continue to engrave the minds of the audience with their ideologies through the universal medium since 1990…
The Melbourne-formed duo Xylouris White started the fire pit with tracks that typically introduce a melodic meditative-like tempo on octane, building to a temperamental mood, culminating a dramatic touch, and rupturing to a bombastic ending from the kicks and pummelling of the drums. I must admit I’m not too familiar with their work, but they have conducted world tours showcasing their “free-jazz, avant-rock and ages-old Greek folk”. It is worth a listen.
After a short break came the Anglo-French psychedelic band, having just arrived from Sydney as part of their world tour.
Stereolab nonchalantly conducted last minute checks – in full view of the crowd who seemed oblivious to the happenings on stage. You’d be forgiven to assume they were the roadies. When all gears were set, Laetitia Sadier, the co-founder and one of two remaining original members (Tim Gane being the other), embraced the punters with a simple “good evening” – without the build-up that we’d expect from an international act that has graced the world stage (with a decade long hiatus between 2009-2019).
Following the confusing opener, the band redeemed with the upbeat ‘Brakhage’ and injecting further tempo to the diverse audience when Sadier announced, “it is time to French Disko in Fremantle”, an injected relief to the opening flaw.
Their on-stage arrangements were unique with the two founding members at the opposite ends. In the middle and towards the rear of the stage were the remaining members on keyboard, bass and drums. None stood imperiously on stage, unlike those commercially affiliate bands; perhaps the arrangement was a discharge of anti-capitalism rhetoric, a symbolic shun in social class that emboldens deep into their political and cultural mantra.
The performance was guitar orientated, with Sadier moonlighting between the guitar, keyboard and the tambourine, leading a mix bag of genres blending in a controlled cacophony, mashed but discernible, and manifesting a kaleidoscopic genres of jazz, pop, electronic, lounge, French influences…knitting a rich recipe of music resonating from the 5-piece band.
Stereolab are never about conformity, as evident by the limited commercial success. The punchy and satirical ‘Ping Pong’ that had a sniffed at the British charts (peaked at 45). The keyboard harmonised a nostalgic 60’s flavour, whilst Gane shaking his head like a teenage fan of a Beatles gig as he sizzled his rhythmic guitar to a track about social dissolution in western politics and culture; compounded by the destructive capitalist cycle. This track remains a seminal piece of their discography, earning them the contentous tag as a “Marxist band”.
It is of little wonder that Streolab draw a surprising young(er) crowd, blending against the matured audience (where I happened to bump into one of the executives from work), spurting anthems of the anti-establishments. Seems their purpose is to inspire a new generation of the anti-western populists, as they mesmerised the crowd in (fittingly) Fremantle with their avant pop delivery on culture and politics.
There were times when the show was out of sorts, like the slight meltdown towards the end when the guitar strings of Gane snapped. Time wasted as he went about searching for spares…subsequently scaling down the encore to two songs in ‘Blue Milk’ and ‘Contronatura’ (and bypassing “Double Rock”) to abide with the strict closing times as required by license (pretty ironic considering the Marxist’ness of that ruling).
As the performance progressed, I came to the realisation that this is Sadier as a person; a realist, an honest performer without the diva need for fancy flamboyance and on-stage charades, as what we’d expect from the left-politically charged band. And that was good enough for the audience, as they focused purely on the genre and theme. With Sadier’s vocals casting a glimpse of 60’s nostalgia with added risqué while mirroring an adaptation of a bar scene frequent in a black and white French classic, I drew myself closer to her spirit, her music, and her as a person, stamping the front person as an endearing performer in my books.