October 25, 2001 - TT the Bear's, Cambridge, MA
A few months ago I had another great radio moment: one of those times where something came on the airwaves and
made me giggle with excitement at how perfect it was. I thought it was perhaps a new Cibo Matto song. Instead it
turned out to be a French/German group covering a Japanese 80's pop gem: Stereo Total's version of I Love You,
Ono, originally by the Plastics. No matter. This goofy little tune with high pitched beeps, simple-cutsey verses and
this wonderfully out of tune chorus just makes me smile without fail. There is great value in something so simple
making someone so very happy. I had to see if this group could have the same effect on me, live onstage.
What I saw three nights ago might have been one of the best shows I've ever seen in my life. It completely made me
question my tastes in music and challenged the roots of my faith in performing and composing post-
punk/art/indie/whatever rock. It made me wonder why I bother trying to master weird time signatures and dissonant
harmonies for an audience of thrift-store clad, motionless, jaded drones who don't know how to cut loose in any
way, when two people from Europe can get onstage with assorted drum utensils, pedals and a keyboard and elicit
such unbridled, unjaded, childish glee from a similar audience and still be called back for two encores? While I
reevaluate my tiny place in the indie rock spectrum, I'll lay down the lowdown on the events of this extraordinary
First up was the famous Tara Jane O'Neill. Her place is underground rock history already secure from her previous
involvement in Rodan and others, her set this night actually helped to convey the wide gap between this music I
support (indie rock) and this other music which blew me away (lo-fi pop). In a sense, you could say she is in fact an
originator of this indie rock "sound", so its a given that she's an expressive singer, amazing guitarist and a great
songwriter. But here's what got on my nerves: her backing band of cigarette-huffing hipsters and the droning
"groove"-oriented gelatin they chose to coat her subtle finger-picking based music in. Each song was very samey,
starting out with a simple guitar figure from O'Neill and gradually unobtrusively augmented and embellished by
each instrument (when you see the drummer weilding brushes and orchestral mallets, you know not much rocking is
going to be done). I found myself thinking, "This is nice but it'd be REALLY cool if they changed the chord now
..or how about...NOW?..." No such luck.
It didn't help matters that in order to get into this relaxed mode of music making, every member had to keep to
themselves. Its really offensive to me when someone I've paid money to see, closes their eyes the whole time. I don't
care about insecurity. If you don't want to be the center of attention, don't get on a stage and make people pay money
to see you be uncomfortable. It is very distancing. Its almost like the group is only concerned about what they are
creating amongst themselves to bother to share it with the audience. This fine to get into a zone like this, tripping
balls in your practice room but it comes across as very self-centered and annoying when you are in front of 100
people. No wonder noone knows how to dance anymore. Everyone has become so used to spacing out as they watch
a band onstage spacing out. What kind of dumb shit is this?!? Does this make any sense? Its just my opinion. At the
end of the day, Tara Jane O'Neill is a well-known, highly respected music figure and I'm ju
st a poor schmuck bitching about her show on a computer so she wins anyway.
Moving on, the complete antithesis of O'Neill's group came on in the form of Momus. I had only heard the name of
this creature before but never the music. I was in for quite a treat. I watch the sound guy cart away all the drums,
amps, cables and instruments of the first group and set up one cocktail table, a mic and mic stand and an ibook
computer. Momus, a skinny gangly Welsh(?) gentleman, eyepatch and all, ambled out onstage hit a button and
proceeded to obliterate what came before. 5 motionless people with instruments could not compare to one man and a
computer. His music derives from folk/cheesy pop/cabaret songs -- you name it. "The Rape of Lucretia" featured
two characters which he represented by wearing a cap for one and a wig for the other, acting out the actions of both.
The best touch came when he put the cap on the wig and said, "And together, they sing..." as he went into the
chorus. Simple, silly, spectacular. "The Penis Song" was an amusing patter number in the style of Gilbert and
Sullivan and Noel Coward (? the guy who sang "Maddogs and Englishmen" NOT Joe Cocker) One song he sang to
his ibook for the first verse, held up the computer to the mic and IT sang the second verse back to him. Priceless. I
can see where the Stephen Merritt comparisons come into play with this man but his show is definitelly much less
languidly gloomy and more music theater oriented. Truly wonderful.
How can this ridiculous display of theatrics and complex computer driven pop be topped? By two people who
manage to take the earthy lo-fi instrument driven sensibilities of the first band and combine it with the quirky lo-fi
techno side of the second and filter it all through heavy French accents. Stereo Total are Brezel, a tall unibrowed
Czech on homemade guitar and keyboards, and Francoise, a slender bespecled chanteuse on drums and vocals. The
music they produce is derivative borderline kiddie-pop but they rock out with such enthusiastic abandon that you
just can't resist them no matter how hard-hearted you are.
Francoise played the cool, collected Cher to Brezel's silly, spastic Sonny. I've never seen a man rock out so hard
while playing five finger exercises on a cheesy keyboard. But Brezel was off-the-wall, earnestly sincere,
aerobacizing all over the stage, while Francoise did an understated watusi as she sang. Even more impressive was
her simultaneous drumming, especially on numbers featuring Brezel on guitar. The racket they raised managed to
teleport them from the neon-drenched discoteques of Berlin to the smelly, motor-oil scented garages of suburban
America. AND they played my song, which sounded just as out of tune on the record, owing to Brezel's attempts to
sing along on the chorus in the same octave. Other highlights included "Ringo, I Love You" and their take on Salt-n-
Pepa's "Push It"
These two had so much personality and genuine enthusiasm for performing, they put many of the groups I currently
pledge allegiance to to shame. A tight concise set punctuated by witty, onstage banter, songs alternating in French,
German and pidgeon English, between sample driven retro electronica to lo-fi garage rock, Two encores to an
ecstatic crowd, yelling whatever French they barely knew in appreciation; this show had it all.
A few simple tools and ideas can go a long way towards connecting with an audience of people who barely speak a
word of your language. This show reaffirmed my faith in the universal joy to be found in music. It made me
question my ideas in putting so much energy into creating music which only elicits polite applause. Stereo Total has
shown me that one important but often overlooked ingrediant needs to be present in the the art I wish to create:
Written By: Sir Brian C.