Stereolab, QMU, Glasgow

Even in the shadow of pain, this is the best of Europop
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The Independent Culture

For just a few brief moments at this ­ only Stereolab's second gig since... well, we'll get to that in a minute ­ there was a hint of something in the air.

For just a few brief moments at this ­ only Stereolab's second gig since... well, we'll get to that in a minute ­ there was a hint of something in the air. Something not entirely unwelcome, but just a little glimpse that all was not as it should be. In the insistent bass pattern, which bordered on the frayed angularity of New York New Wave, and in the deep, lustful house beat of the drum machine that punctuated it, there was a definite manly musk. A hint too much testosterone, perhaps, for this most feminine of pop groups.

But maybe we were all just looking a little too closely for evidence of something wrong, or ­ more accurately ­ something missing, because we knew that there certainly was. For Stereolab are one of those few bands who've had to make the hardest comeback of all: the decision to carry on after the death of one of their members.

In December 2002, the band's co-vocalist and instrumentalist Mary Hansen was killed after being run over while riding her bike in London. The band were 12 years and eight albums into their career, and to many fans and people within the Stereolab camp it would surely have been understood had they wished to call time on their journey. Like those other noted rock survivors of recent years, The Charlatans (who lost their keyboard player Rob Collins in a car accident), however, decisions were made one way or another that persistence is the best form of tribute. And so we all find ourselves here, gig number two (barring the previous night's much lower-key affair at the Old Tolbooth in Stirling) since October 2002 and the dark days that immediately followed, in support of album number nine, Margarine Eclipse.

A collective sigh of reaffirmed faith passed the lips of the near-capacity crowd as we discovered we were privy to a celebration, rather than a commiseration. The sight of Hansen's one-time singing partner Laetitia Sadier ­ elegant and understated in simple red top and black trousers, like a bright young music tutor thrust into the limelight ­ was unfamiliar at first, but those elegiac, Continental tones of hers confirmed that no one sings Europop like the French. And bandleader Tim Gane and the rest ­ the odd hint of testosterone-imbalance aside ­ proved that no one can do beautiful, energising crossover pop like Stereolab. At times they trilled along on little more than Sadier's sweet, girlish vocals; at others they veered into the darker territory of throbbing post-rock ­ but with added trombone.

The disco pound of "Mass Riff", the perennially exhilarating "Lo Boob Oscillator" and the tenderly humid "Come and Play in the Milky Night" left us in no doubt that they're still the band they always were. Moreover, Sadier's mid-set dedication to "our dear friend Mary" ­ met with approving murmur and fond applause ­ felt like spoken confirmation that they knew, as did we, that to have lost a band as fine as Stereolab at such a crucial time would have made the world a duller place.

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