The Long Journey Back: Stereolab @ Content – Reviewed


“If these songs were released today, they would surely be referred to as bangers!” Confirmed Stereolab fan Mike Pinnington on the band’s recent triumphant Liverpool gig…

I’ve always tended to try and catch support bands. When I was young, this was largely about pure enthusiasm – and arriving early enough to guarantee a good spot at or near the front for the headliners. As I’ve got older it’s been more to do with showing respect to those further down the bill. And you never know, you might just get in on the groundfloor of an amazing, as yet unknown, act.

Those with similar instincts will have been rewarded this past Wednesday at Liverpool’s Content (a recent, very welcome addition to Liverpool’s gig venue offer). If not exactly an unknown quantity, Verity Susman and Matthew Simms’ – late of Electrelane and Wire respectively – Memorials were certainly worth braving the November night for.

“Their barrage of jazzy drone experimentation gets the early crowd in the mood”

Susman’s Electrelane were always identifiably in the orbit of Stereolab, and that lineage is clear in this current project. Their sound: a barrage of jazzy drone experimentation comprising off-kilter vocal stylings and eclectic instrumentation (and much tape-looping – to great effect), gets the early crowd in the mood. With an album and a pair of film soundtracks under their belts, there’s no shortage of material to delve into if this is your bag. For those who missed Memorials on this occasion, they play Birkenhead’s Future Yard in December.

It’s been a long journey back to Liverpool for Stereolab – and for me back to them, in a live context at least. I last saw them in 1999, at Liverpool’s Royal Court (in support of Pavement). In the intervening years, a bit of mythologising of the band has taken place on my part, and in the days leading up to the gig I’d begun to wonder: could they possibly live up to nearly a quarter of a century’s worth of the adulation? An answer wasn’t long in coming.

“Dipping a toe rather than launch headlong into their set, the band eased gently into mellifluous waters”

The band arrived on stage to warmly expectant applause, whoops, and good natured, albeit bad efforts at French, directed at chanteuse Lætitia Sadier (a co-founder and leader of the band along with Tim Gane). Taking a few seconds to soak it all in, they dipped a toe rather than launch headlong into their set, easing gently into mellifluous waters; 1999’s Come And Play In The Milky Night and Eye of the Volcano (lifted from 2006 album Fab Four Suture) emblematic of a down- and mid-tempo start to proceedings.


Devotees in the crowd – and there were many – knew this was just a prelude to what would follow, however. Quickly shifting through the gears and undulating rhythms, Stereolab wasted little time in demonstrating what can reasonably be termed an embarrassment of riches of a back catalogue. From near perfect 1997 album Dots and Loops, Refractions in the Plastic Pulse came next; after which, a personal fave of mine: Lo Boob Oscillator, whose droning crescendo of a second half always comes as a surprise following such gentle beginnings.

The set continued apace as tracks which, if they were released today would surely be referred to as bangers(!), kept coming. Miss Modular, Mountain, The Flower Called Nowhere. I could go on. And so could they have. Midweek curfews said otherwise. Closing the set, they returned almost to the very beginning with 1992’s gloriously propulsive Super-Electric – a song which, said Sadier, who pointedly clasped her hands, “is about unity.”

“Rarely has a heritage act commanded so effusive a response”

Visibly revelling in the affection radiating from the audience she then said, with a ‘curfew be damned’ twinkle in her eye, “this is the last song on the list… but we don’t believe in lists…” Nevertheless, at the song’s close, the band – hoovering up rapturous applause – exited stage left.  Entirely predictably they re-emerged soon after to a cacophony of calls for “one more song.” In the event, they responded with two, as all timer French Disko merged seamlessly into Simple Headphone Mind.

Stereolab, outstanding throughout, had taken the place by storm. From the moment they’d shimmied, roughly a third of the way into their set, with Lo Boob Oscillator, the audience had been practically euphoric. Aficionados old enough to have been there the first time giddily rolled back the years; but there were also much younger fans present, who danced and punched the air alongside them. Rarely can what we’ll politely call a heritage band have commanded so effusive a response – and it was joyous.

Mike Pinnington  

Images © John Johnson

Coming soon to Content: Craig Charles Funk & Soul House Party – 26 December; The Vaccines – 13 January; The Cheap Thrills – 2 March; Bill-Ryder Jones – 21 March

Posted on 17/11/2023 by thedoublenegative