I’m relatively new to Stereolab. Born a year after their fifth studio album, “Dots And Loops,” and quite a few years too late to see them perform live. Truth be told, I first heard Stereolab playing at an Urban Outfitters during my freshman year in college, in 2016. I immediately pulled out my phone, Shazaming discreetly while looking nonchalant, as one does while browsing hipster apparel. The song was “Cybele’s Reverie,” coming off their fourth studio album, “Emperor Tomato Ketchup.”
Fast forward about two and a half years later. I’m sweaty, hungry, and of course, still not fully comprehending the fact Stereolab is about to perform right here, right now, for the first time in North America in over a decade.
We were at Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park. A little less than an hour had passed since the storm rolled through, and the gates reopened. Flocks of drenched festival-goers began to make their way in. It filled up quickly, with caked shoes and soaked ponchos forming a massive crowd at the Green Stage. Considering how easily this could’ve been ruined if the storms persisted, it was a relief to hear Laetita Sadier, the lead vocalist, kindly say they could still play half a set. It ended up being 40 minutes, and not a soul complained.
Stereolab started things off with “Percolator.” Also off of “Emperor Tomato Ketchup,” the song stood among the more fast-paced, headbanging jams — a great segue into their more groovier, jazzier hits. Of them, “Miss Modular” solidified itself as one of the most mesmerizing performances of the show. Stereolab definitely set the bar as high as the ozone layer with it, because as soon as that bassline kicked in, something magical happened. A sea of bobbing heads ensued, fully ensnared in the hypnotic funkiness.
During the longest jam of the set, “Metronomic Underground,” Tim Gane’s amp malfunctioned. Things weren’t as moovy and groovy with a guitarist down, especially considering it all happened at the start of a song that grazes 8 minutes in length. Of course, it still turned out great, with Sadier keyboard player Joe Watson providing more powerful vocals to fill up the empty space.
Later, as band members sound checked their respective instruments, Sadier made some small talk.
“I don’t know if you remember that one seventh track on the seventeenth album,” she said. The crowd burst out in laughter.
“It’s not a hit, it’s called ‘Infinity Girl.’” The crowd gave an enthusiastic “Woo!”
“Yeah! You remember that one.”
Then, probably the most funky avant-pop beat ever began playing. Remember the bar they set with “Miss Modular?” With “Infinity Girl,” it launched far into outer space. The stars were aligned for the first time ever in my life, because “Infinity Girl” was the bar-rocket-amalgamation that flew right to it.
Sadier provided that sort of wah-wah keyboard melody that commands you to put on the stank face — the kind of face you make when something’s utterly and undeniably funky. Watson supported this with some sick synth-jazz hands on the second keyboard. Andy Ramsey effortlessly alternated between a looser, groovier beat and a motorik-like, fast-paced fist pumper. Simply put, “Infinity Girl” proved to be a mind-blowing surprise, and that may or may not have been the first time I heard the song. Ever.
That might be the point, though. Stereolab sounds fresh, even though they formed almost three decades ago. Browse YouTube for just a bit, and you’ll find numerous nostalgic comments scattered on almost every video. Some are new, maybe posted 10 months ago. But most are hitting that six, seven, and eight year post date. They’re talking about how Stereolab’s music “does not age,” or how “after all these years, [they’re] sounding so so good.”
These guys aren’t lying. Stereolab stood the test of time, not only for those who first adored them in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, but also for those who discovered them decades later, completely by accident.
After capping things off with “John Cage Bubblegum,” Sadier made one last comment.
“See you again, sometime… soon.”