Big Cat, Osaka, Japan • February 13, 2000
I used to think Stereolab was pretty cool, but after seeing them live in on the first night of their Japanese tour, I decided that they’re more than that. “FUCK!” was the only audible word emitting my lips as they produced a million sounds from about twenty songs, sounds I was familiar with but my ears felt virgin to, and sounds that I was a stranger to but quickly befriended.
Stereolab is the greatest thing to happen to “modern” music since the Velvet Underground. The secret lies in their complexity, which derives from their sheer simplicity, and all of it is unfiltered originality. I have never been to a concert where I was introduced to sweeter sounds and fresher vibes. Seriously, there were times during this set that I forgot I was listening to music, it was such a powerfully ranged, emotional package of textured layers and kick ass grooves!!!
The club, being Japanese, followed strict bureaucratic regulations for filling folks INTO the venue (each ticket had a number and we were allowed in chronologically starting with 1– my ticket read “731”), and featured impeccable lighting and (albeit BASS-heavy) sound gear. The place was immaculate, and one of the only non-smoking cubicles in the country. Fifty bucks a ticket plus the evil 500 yen “drink” (Zima, beer, whiskey) cover at the door… this was a bargain by Japan standards!
After splendidly dark ambient interludes by DJ Shiro M, there was a heavily distorted improvisation by “CHILD’S VIEW” AKA: Nobukazu Takemura. His set featured calm bangings on computers that looped a woman playing the harp, occasionally, and singing tones, occasionally. Not bad, especially with the big beat additions, but they didn’t do much to move the crowd. We were waiting for lab to begin.
There were less than fifty foreigners in attendance, the rest of the crowd comprised of mildly eccentric Japanese youths supporting foreign bands’ belief that the Japanese know good music (when in reality, the most popular foreign band in Japan is Mr. BIG!?!) But this crowd DID know good music, and got it when Stereolab began.
A svelte version of “Miss Modular” kicked it off with creamy vocals and dreamy smoothness. The ambiance set was a complete contrast from the darkness of the opening acts. This was spry and organic. Three men in the back (guitar, bass, and drums) and three muchachas in front rocking keyboards, additional guitars, and two of them kicking the vocals (both lovely French and English). Stereolab is tighter and crisper live than on disc.
The first half of the set was more SMOOTH-FI, while the second set got more guitar oriented. Some fat and funky bass and drum grooves made an appearance, and the happiest-sounding keys and vocals mixed with swirly noise made the black club BRITE! For a good bit, I was thinking about how interesting it was to not hear a guitar solo, and then on “Percolator,” we got one that was so distortedly wicked, it sounded nothing like a guitar, and the separation emitted from the speakers blew my mind, forcing me to close my eyes and think of the flavor of drinking water from a garden hose–this was not music, this was mental twisting! This was not ordinary sound, this was an eighth sense, something not recognized by most beings de human until they see, hear, and experience Stereolab live!
For a healthy hour and twenty minutes, we were all exposed to another level. There was nothing but layered noise. Nothing harsh, nothing weak, Stereolab solidified a sound that was unlike anything you have ever heard before and will never forget the way it made you feel — clean, alive, and dripping with the taste of good new music.