Stereolab’s ethereal art-pop lights up the RCC Fringe

Going to see a band you know nothing about can sound a little counter intuitive. Why would you take a punt on something you don’t know? Aren’t these shows just for fans? How will you know you’ll like the music? I had these questions in my head as I entered the Bonython Hall to see Stereolab on Thursday night as a part of the RCC Fringe.

The night started off on the right foot with the jazz fusion stylings of local five-piece The Cortex Shift. “Our keyboardist is new’ said frontman Kyle Opie between songs “I think he’s doing well, wouldn’t you agree?” We certainly would – his tight keyboards added depth and melody to their jazz rock jams, the perfect warm up to the main event, with Smoot Pt. 3 being a highlight.

the cortex shift
The Cortex Shift set the vibe with jazz fusion.

Built in 1926, the Bonython Hall is a magnificent space, with a high cathedral-like ceiling, perfect for Stereolab’s droney post rock. The tone was set early as the band opened proceedings with Anamorphose, it’s chuggy guitar line and nagging keyboard riff radiating throughout the space. 

Having drawn the crowd in, it was time to get them moving. Big hit French Disko was a crowd pleaser, getting the punters moving and shuffling to its catchy melody. Ping Pong also caught the crowd’s attention, with it’s catchy stop-start chorus allowing for some creative shapes to be thrown on the dance floor. I found out later that Ping Pong’s lyrics are about marxist revolution – if the revolution sounds this good, I won’t complain.

One of of the key things that struck me about Stereolab was their approachability. Being new to the band, it never felt that you had to know any of their music intimately to have a great time. Tracks like Metronomic Underground and Need to Be picked you up on the hook and carried you through, your body almost involuntarily moving to the music. Indeed, after the show as I walked back to my car I struggled – my calves had been constantly moving to the beat of the music, that I was a bit wobbly on my feet. 

The band ended the performance with a strung out version of Le Boob Oscillator, cranking up the distortion, beat and synths until the floor of the hall shook, almost with an intent to shake out the last grooves from the crowd before the end.

This was reflected in the encore, with the quieter Rainbo Conversation, hypnotic Blue Milk and Contronatura bringing the crowd to a peaceful end. The finale of crowd favorite John Cage Bubblegum meant that everyone left the hall with a smile on their face.

Blue Milk under a Blue Moon photo by @eightpercentjazz

I would consider my horizons expanded by the experience of Stereolab, and am now eager to dive into their back catalogue to find even more hidden gems. An ethereal setting, pulsating hooks and down to earth attitude may have created a new life long fan. So why not take a punt on something you don’t know – you may just find something new.

Stereolab are touring Australia in March before heading to the US throughout May.

Header photograph courtesy of @eightpercentjazz.

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