The lubricated bubble is in town tonight

Chris Lee and Christina Rosenvinge
Crystal Ballroom
all ages, 7 p.m. doors

“To us the sound (Stereolab) crafted was new. We didn’t know it was really just Neu!”
What do we call it? What is the sound Stereolab makes? Their electro pop is jazzy, sexy, snappy and happy. Even, at times, forlorn. It is contemplative like no American band could ever be – if only because it is dance-y too.

Stereolab’s sound floats on bubbles. Bubbles that bounce and threaten to pop, and when they do we realize this soap is not sticky. Or is it even soap? No. These bubbles are comprised of a lube.Stereolab brings its bouncy, infectious, danceable sounds to the Crystal Ballroom tonight, and we would be all well served to get a dose of their happiness.

The clean production, the perfect mix of lyrics in English and French, the happy guitar and Moog sound, and the general intelligence of their music all let us look askance at any qualms as to the derivation of their sound.

Even with the cat finally out of the bag in the United States, we can continue to love Stereolab. Earlier this year saw the first stateside reissue of the first three albums by ’70s German prog-rock legends Neu! (pronounced noi). What an awakening for every American familiar with Stereolab. The punchy guitar, the progressive bass lines, the experimental dabbling – all the staples of Stereolab’s sound can be found on Neu! albums 1, 2 and 3.

But Stereolab cannot be faulted, every group of musicians has its influence – it’s just that Stereolab’s source came as a shock to many of us. To us the sound they’d crafted was new. We didn’t know it was really just Neu!

We must keep in mind that Stereolab is a vocal-based dance band – not an experiment, but a means for dancing, for feeling good. And they continue to leave us feeling that way. With Laetia Sadler’s full and unmistakable trademark voice leading the way, the rest of the group is allowed to go through the paces, simply breathing, it seems. But like breathing, these are rote expressions – necessary and true.

And hey, we love Stereolab for all of this: the peppy guitars, the bouncing bass, the Moog’s funky analogue wash, and Laetia’s ever-happy, but still contemplative, intonations.

They are a decidedly continental outfit, but there is an American, or rather a Chicago, touch they can’t seem to let go of. John McIntyre and Jim O’Rourke’s smooth work in the production booth has become a Stereolab staple. These two have taken the lab from the hands of the scientists and helped to perfect the formula, ensuring the public gets only the purest of sounds.

And let’s not forget Mr. Sean O’Hagen, the man behind the oft-derided (at least in North America) High Llamas. Accused of derivativeness in respect to his own band’s Bacharach-ish sensibilities, O’Hagen has proved himself a master arranger of both horn and string parts while working with Stereolab. The prints of his adept fingers are all over the band’s sound.

It all adds up. Stereolab has been at it for over 10 years now, and has not lost a bouncy beat. The bubble has yet to pop. They’ve redefined themselves once or twice, toured the world a hundred times , won legions of new fans, released an LP a year since 1992, and survived this annoying Neu! thing. Stereolab will live forever.

Tonight Stereolab plays the Crystal Ballroom. French popsters Fugu, and Chris Lee and Christina Rosenvinge open. Tickets are $14 advance, available at Ozone, Jackpot Records and Ticketmaster. Doors at 7 p.m., music at 8 p.m., all ages welcome.