Perched on the cusp of mainstream success for nearly three years now, the genre-bending, impossible-to-classify Euro act Stereolab paid Los Angeles a nice little visit for two nights.
The Elektra recording artists played the Palace on Saturday and Troubadour on Sunday to support their new disc, “Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night.”
Melding a strange blend of influences — from “Remain in Light”-period Talking Heads to Brasil 66 to French folk singing — Stereolab has managed an amazing feat, holding onto a sizable cult audience in the U.S. for the better part of a decade.
But their jazzy, airy melodies and breathy chanteuse-styled singing haven’t burned up the charts, mostly because the group’s songs are more fragments than full compositions, intended to create moods rather than sell a story.
As they’ve evolved, the tracks have gotten longer and the choruses more pronounced. Ambient is a fairly apt description of their music.
With little fanfare and subtle lighting, however, they did light up a sold-out Palace. Fronted by a stationary pair of female singers in Laetitia Sadier and Mary Hansen, the band moved from style to style with grace and ease. Light funk gave way to psyched-out jamming before the band launched into its first fully realized song, “The Fruit Is On,” a 6/8 timed excursion into jazzy modality.
As well as the group fared on these flights, it was more impressive when grounded in the kind of hypnotic miniatures that made Stereolab semi-famous: “Metronomic Underground,” for example, rocked the hipster-laden house about as hard as anything could.
Nevertheless, it’s doubtful whether Stereolab, whose approach is both broad and deep, will ever fill arenas with suburbanites.
The same is true of opener Olivia Tremor Control. Like Stereolab, this six-piece band moved from style to style in an almost textbook fashion, from Beach Boys to the Who to musique concrete breakdowns and a rousing two-chord Husker Du-like rave-up at the end.
Switching instruments between every number and employing exotica like an oboe, clarinet, tuba, melodica and fluegelhorn to color up their basic rock, OTC might just be a comer with a few more hooks and a lot more looks.