Stereolab @ Oran Mor
As ever, when it comes to going to gigs, we got there too early. Sydne tends not to drink and I’m always driving so, rather than do what everyone else does and relax in the bar upstairs until the door opens, we can usually be found freezing at the dingy little door which leads into the venue for twenty minutes or more before a gig. Fortunately, thanks to Xmas being just round the corner, we were blessed with something more diverting, in the form of late night shopping, to pass the time.
Upon finding ourselves on Byers Road with a spare thirty minutes, we did what any self respecting music fan would do and headed straight for Fopp. Of course, a visit to Fopp isn’t complete without spending money. Always on some bargain you didn’t know you needed twenty minutes earlier, but now, absolutely must have since its just so cheap. This time was no different.
As I idly browsed, Sydne came running up to me with her hands behind her back and a huge grin on her face. ‘I bet you anything that when you see what I have behind my back, you’ll have to buy it’ she said. Being experienced enough to recognise the signs which signal an imminent parting of this fool and his money, I said nothing and looked at her expectantly. And sure enough, for just four of your shiny new pounds…
That girl knows me so well sometimes, it’s scary!
I’ve always been a fan of Jamie Hewlett’s artwork ever since the early days of Tank Girl appearing in Deadline back in the early nineties. So, for some time, I’ve had my eye on this book, but I could never justify twenty five quid on it. At four pounds though, Bargain! (especially since, according to Amazon, it’s out of print and the few remaining new copies are going for £50!) They had done it again. Damn you Fopp and your reasonably priced media, costing me my hard earned small change (and dwindling storage space) at every visit.
I spotted something though that just seemed plain wrong. Fopp have started selling computer games. I can’t define why exactly it’s wrong, but it just is. Even though they’re now part of the HMV megalith, they still exude, and trade on, the slightly musty air of an independent old-school record shop. The kind from High Fidelity. One that smells like your parents loft and is generally populated by slightly balding men in too much denim who are old enough to know better but too old to save. Fopp selling computer games feels tantamount to Dylan going electric in ’65. I managed to fight the urge to scream ‘Judas’ as we bundled out the door and headed back in the direction of Oran Mor.
We descended the stairs to the venue entrance with fifteen minutes until the scheduled opening time. A minute or so later, we were joined by a friendly, talkative Aidan Moffat lookalike. When we revealed we lived in Motherwell, he recounted a story of the last time he had been in one of Motherwell’s less respectable drinking establishments and witnessed a fight breaking out. The two aggrieved parties found their way into the car park, and then partook in a somehow more wholesome and innocent kind of fight which is seldom seen in these harsh times; A manner for which the correct term would probably be fisticuffs rather than fight. Jackets and shirts were carefully removed beforehand to reveal threadbare string vests. They fought sportingly for a few minutes before agreeing a draw, shaking hands and returning back inside together to conclude the consumption of their alcoholic beverage of choice. Our Aidan-a-like described it as ‘One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen’ and I can’t help but agree that it sounds like it.
A few more minutes passed and the queue began to grow some more. A man with an American accent appeared and asked if this was where tickets could be bought. A few minutes earlier, our Aidan-a-like had spoken to one of the bouncers since he too was wanting to buy a ticket. The bouncer had confirmed there were fifteen tickets still available. He recounted this information to the American.
‘Aye. It’s no’ open yet though. theres about fifteen tickets left.’
To my ears, this was spoken quite clearly, but in hindsight, his accent must have been a bit impenetrable to those of a non-Glaswegian persuasion. He listened intently and nodded at all the correct moments but no lightbulb of understanding ever appeared above his head. The cogs continued to visibly turn after silence had resumed. A look of mild panic dawned on his face as he realised that it was his turn to speak but he had no idea what had just been said to him (a look I know only too well from my feeble attempts to speak German when visiting Sydne’s folks). The entire queue smiled at him encouragingly, as if hoping that we could make him understand by sheer will alone. Aidan broke the silence again. “It’s due to open in ten minutes and there’s still about fifteen tickets left” The cogs appeared to speed up, but the eureka moment was still evading him.
Eventually, he spoke. ‘So…it…is…where we get them?’ he asked tentatively. We all nodded thinking that our collective psychic encouragement had prevailed and he had managed to penetrate Aidan’s accent. Sadly, we were mistaken. He immediately followed up by beginning to squeeze past us and head for the door. The tension in the crowd released itself with an audible ‘NO’ from a few of it’s number. He recoiled like a toddler being reprimanded for trying to touch something ‘burny’. Someone else in the queue tried his luck, over enunciating every syllable. ‘This. Is. Where. You. Get. Tickets. But. It. Is. Not. Open. Yet.’
‘Aaaaah’. The American smiled and nodded. The rest of the queue exhaled as one. With the sound of a dropping penny ringing in our ears, silence returned to the queue.
Another few minutes passed, then the doors opened and we were allowed in. Oran Mor looked just as warm, cosy and inviting as ever. The soft lighting and bare stone walls, accented by the tasteful Christmas decorations, painted a festive picture which would just require the presence of a roaring log fire to be complete.
While we were waiting for the entertainment to begin, I had observed that, with Stereolab’s wealth of antique keyboards and other equipment surrounding the stage, the space left in the middle for the support act, ‘The Week That Was’, to perform in was miniscule. I wondered how they would fit. I was reassured therefore to discover quite how tiny most of the band were. They were abnormally small. Positively Lilliputian. The singer looked a bit like a tiny Bob Mortimer but there was an exact 1:3 scale replica of Alex Kapranos on drums, perfect in every detail right down to his pointy little shoes. Conversely, the bass player/percussionist was their Gulliver. He towered above the rest of the band and I half expected the others to pull him to the ground and tie him up halfway through the set.
That didn’t happen so I had to entertain myself with the music, which had the angular guitars and harmonies of the Futureheads but strayed dangerously close to the dreaded ‘prog-rock’ for way too much of their set. Occasionally, I’d find myself liking what I was hearing but then the song would meander off in an altogether more noodly direction and I just wanted to scream ‘Now look what you’ve done!’ at the stage. Overall though, they weren’t bad.
Eventually, Stereolab arrived on stage. Now, much as I consider myself a fan of the band, I have to confess to only really being familiar with four of their albums. For some reason, although I love those albums I do own, I never got round to filling in the gaps. I think its always the problem with discovering a fairly prolific band when they are already four or five albums into their career, that you are forever playing catch-up and don’t know where to begin. Especially when it comes to a band like Stereolab who seem to have an endless catalogue of ltd 7″s and rareties that make catching up seem like an impossible task. Because of that, I only really knew a handful of the songs they played. They have such a definite sound though that it didn’t matter as much as I feared it might. Still, it would have been nice to have heard some more songs from ‘Emperor Tomato Ketchup’.
What the songs lacked in familiarity to me, they more than made up for in volume. Stereolab were LOUD. Earbleedingly so at some points. The two main touchstones of Stereolab’s music were always 60’s French pop and 70’s Krautrock, (although the new album has a large slice of Motown thrown in). Most of the songs they played started at the French pop end of the spectrum and grew to become krautrock beasts by the end.
As I thought they might, they finished the main set with ‘French Disco’ to rapturous applause. When they returned though, it was as though they decided to turn up the volume some more. Twenty more minutes of krautrock wig-out ensued and then they were gone.
On the way out, I held the door open for Stuart Murdoch from Belle & Sebastian. He didn’t say thank you.