In its dozen or so years, Stereolab has evolved from a from-the-neck-up exercise in musical fusion to a genuinely uplifting — if not overly demonstrative — groove band. That development — or at the very least, the luminous vibe — could easily have been derailed by the 2002 death of guitarist-vocalist Mary Hansen.
But at this, the band’s first Gotham date since Hansen was killed in a bicycle accident, the surviving members demonstrated emotional resolve and a readiness to move in a discrete musical direction, rather than attempt to “replace” Hansen. They achieved that by employing a significantly retooled lineup, one with a heavy emphasis on keyboards, and presenting a two-hour set largely drawn from their recent Elektra release “Margerine Eclipse.” While retaining the analog-synth warmth of classic Stereolab, newer songs like “Margerine Melodie” and “Sudden Stars” tended to wash over the aud in a uniform wave rather than move in oscillating waves. Same could be said for “Vonal Declosion,” until Laetitia Sadier’s Francophone vocals emerged from the mix, beckoning ethereally with siren-like insistence.
Grooves came to the fore on numbers such as “Mass Riff,” an angular-yet-earthy instrumental redolent of the brief moment in Gotham musical history when disco and art-rock threatened to meld into one booty-shaking juggernaut. “Cosmic Country Noir,” which reinstated the robotic romanticism of the band’s earliest days, chugged along more jaggedly thanks to Tim Gane’s sharp guitar riffing.
Set was studded with a passel of well-chosen older numbers, most notably a percolating “Lo Boob Oscillator” and a drizzly “Faust Pop” — both of which hail from an era when Stereolab festooned most of its tracks with titles that straddled the line between in-jokes and paint-by-numbers description of what may lay within.
Sadier’s voice still hangs over songs like “Cybele’s Reverie” the way a fine mist lingers in the air of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” And while Hansen’s voice is no longer there to engage her, French horn player Joe Watson provided a lovely — if occasionally overweening — counterpoint that affirmed that the Space-Age Bachelor Pad still has nooks and crannies to explore.
Stereolab plays the Coachella Music Festival on May 1.