GIG REVIEW: Stereolab at Sala Apolo, Barcelona

By Neil Durham

WORTH A LOOK?: ****1/2

WHEN?: Monday 7 November 2022, tour runs to 3 December 2022

SETLIST: Supah Jaianto; Laissex Faire; Eye Of The Volcano; Refractions In The Plastic Pulse; U.H.F. – MF; Miss Modular; Mountain; Hamonium; I Feel The Air (Of Another Planet); Pack Yr Romantic Mind; Super-Electric; Gus The Mynah Bird; French Disko; Simple Headphone Mind

The 1st words lead singer Laetitia Sadier utters are: ‘F*ck the oligarchs’ and as we contemplate an imminent World Cup in a Quatar beset by human rights violations we can’t help but concur as FIFA counts its TV viewing rights receipts.

  • Read on for reasons including how it’s the bands politics that make us better appreciate them

We’ve always struggled with a way into Stereolab and we think the only time we ever saw the band previously was in the 90s around the time of our favourite song of theirs French Disko (watch on Channel 4’s never-dull and of its time The Word below).

But it’s this political edge to the band that makes its appeal begin to crystallise and this is further underscored when Sadier dedicates Eye Of The Volcano (sample lyric: ‘Unbridled exercise of power, The fascist urge to control all, On what we think, to our intimacy, Our bodies turn to commodities’) to oppressed women in Iran.

We’ve walked 20 minutes through some of the more colourful elements of the Raval neighbourhood in Barcelona in which we find ourselves to be here and the sometimes unintelligible nature of Stereolab’s lyrics to our ears also reminds of how we don’t always understand everything we hear in the Catalan capital.

Stereolab are an Anglo-French band formed in London in 1990 and described by some as avant-pop. Sadier sings in both French and English and she and fellow songwriter Tim Gane draw on influences as diverse as 60s pop, krautrock, lounge and Brazilian music to create something utterly spellbinding realised on vintage electronic keyboards.

Much of the set is the musical equivalent of edging with the frenzy worked up and controlled without ever quite reaching climax.

French Disko is, arguably, the song for which they are best known and it is the exception here – utterly thrown under the bus with the band seemingly wilfully playing it far too fast to render it impotent of its multiple amazing pop highs.

We listened to what we thought would be the setlist in preparation for the show and the band are tweaking it ahead of upcoming UK dates because it wasn’t quite what we were expecting but we were surprised by how good much of the material was but also how little of it had stayed with us despite regularly listening to the band since their 90s inception.

Perhaps operating under the radar of having hits means its sometimes difficult to pick the key songs you want to hear from across the band’s 30-plus-year career and yet allows the band to draw on those songs it most wants to play without hardly ever feeling compelled to perform something they’re not entirely happy with.

This was our 1st visit to this venue (we saw Sam Ryder the following night in 1 of Sala Apolo’s 3 smaller rooms) and we guess this was the biggest space with hundreds of predominantly Catalan fans going quietly wild for a band which had a 10-year hiatus before reuniting for live performances in 2019.

This room had great sightlines, an upstairs area and we took the main picture from the side of the stage at the start of the gig before fully exploring what this venue had to offer.

We quite unexpectedly absolutely loved Stereolab and, perhaps if you’re on the verge of deciding whether to see them on this tour before the year is out, this review might just have the chemistry to persuade you to.

  • Main picture courtesy Stereolab Tickets 
  • Have you heard any of Stereolab’s songs or seen any of their shows? Let us know what you thought in the comments below
  • Enjoyed this review? Follow monstagigz on Twitter @NeilDurham, email and check us out on Instagram and Facebook

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