Stereolab, Olivia Tremor Control, La Zona Rosa, November 15

Live Shots

Stereolab, Olivia Tremor Control

La Zona Rosa, November 15

New World Pop. Same as the Old World Pop. In the case of Athens-based pop nerds Olivia Tremor Control, they were one in the same. Given the rag-tag quintet's 45-minute opening set flitting away like a butterfly on nitrous oxide, it seemed like a glorious new day. Playing musical instruments -- as in chairs, not cellos -- while banging on and blowing into an odd array of cans, clarinets, tambourines, recorders, pipes, boxes, and whistles, the group tossed off one charmed pop ditty after another like onetime Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman had joined the Partridge Family. Accompanied by a roadie on trumpet, which later turned into a tuba, the kids in the Austin Music Hall Orbit Room made post-Beatles effluvia their sandbox, playfully tossing last night's can of creamed corn back and forth as the percussive utensil it had become. "We're the Harlem Globetrotters in disguise," giggled the guitarist. One layup after another gave way to outside jumpers toward the end of the set, the group stretching their boogalooing basslines into droning, driving passages on the order of P. Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun." At times operatic, they were never grandiose. "One more song and then Stereolab," said the guitarist with glee. If only the show for grownups had been half as gleeful as the kiddie matinee. "Thank you all," said Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier in her flat French accent one short intermission and two tunes later. "We have some new songs for you. This is called ... eh, 'Infinity Girl' -- I think." It was, actually, one of the exotic go-go dancer numbers this London-based sixpiece has come to be known for in their decade-long pad party -- this one from the band's new LP, Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night. It went well with the band's shimmering tinsel stage backdrop. Its intro was also the extent of the chanteuse's chatter for the evening, the aloof band having all the stage presence of a Fifties dinette set. "Free Design," she announced soon thereafter, Sadier and second vocalist Mary Hansen layering their straight-faced la-la-la's, ba-ba-ba's, da-da-da's over one another's vocal lines. Space Age Bachelor Pad Music for the swinger set. A verse or two, followed by choppy, throbbing guitar riffs from founder Tim Gane and that same Floydian bassline building thicker and more dense as the songs accelerated at an alarming pace. With a light show straight out of Lazarium (what, no disco ball?), the swingers were rendered motionless, the packed house lethargic and dumb at the 45-minute mark. No matter, Stereolab had only landed in Austin for a perfunctory hourlong performance, closing their set with what Sadier called out as "A Little S&M" -- serious head music. Beginning the three-song encore, as Simon Johns bubbled forth with the bassline from some Sixties pop nugget ("I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night"?), Sadier introduced "a work in progress," which the band proceeded with like a bad hangover. Afterward, they drove straight to the heart of the sun with their last atomic blast, but they should have gone with "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night" instead. At least that way, pretension and pop might have met halfway.

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