Thursday, June 08, 2000

Stereolab too cool for music's own good

By Chris Varias
Enquirer contributor

        Newport was ground zero Tuesday night for the hippest modern-music tour currently making the rounds, as English math-rockers Stereolab and avant-jazz outfit the Chicago Underground Duo played to a packed Southgate House.

        The sold-out crowd was there for Stereolab, the headliners, who put on an 80-minute show split between lengthy drone rock and lounge-y tunes in odd signatures, like soundtrack music to a '60s mod-French flick that never was.

        Stereolab didn't waste too much energy working the crowd. The detached cool of lead singers Laetitia Sadier and Mary Hansen had a calming effect: never has a room so packed been so mellow.

        Only between songs, when the audience would scream and shout, was the crowd's active enjoyment noticeable. During the songs, responses were passive but equally positive — lots of hypnotic head-bobbing and smiles.

        Had the band put a little more warmth into their performance, the room would have been up for grabs from start to finish. It would have been nice if that drone rock was played with more gusto than the recorded versions.

        In fact, their signature droner “Metronomic Underground” was met with cheers of recognition, but no cheer was deserved until about eight minutes in. That's when guitarist Tim Gane, the most energetic of the lot, tore off a great scratchy psychedelic solo.

        The lounge stuff was good but not great. Ms. Sadier, who sang mostly in French, stuck to structured verses in those songs. Her vocals were more interesting in the droners when her short phrases were used like her Moog.

        The Chicago Underground Duo — trumpeter Rob Mazurek and drummer Chad Taylor — showed why they're two of the more heralded players in the Windy City's expansive avant and free-jazz scenes.

        Sometimes they play as a trio or a quartet, but the duo is interesting enough, with Mr. Mazurek's Miles-like way with time, space and a muted trumpet and Mr. Taylor's ability to play the vibes with his right hand while keeping the beat with his left.


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