January 21 Scouring the fringes of Glasgow’s annual folk ‘n’ fiddles fest Celtic Connections seems a strange way in which to stumble on a solo set from erstwhile Stereolab lynchpin Laetitia Sadier, but here she is, happy to be invited back to perform in Scotland once more. If her 2010 solo outing The Trip was comparatively slight, tonight Sadier strips the arrangements down further to just guitar and voice. This is no longer the cool, detached “Marxist background music” that the ‘Lab had made their own, and which audiences had long since started to take for granted; by focusing on her voice, Sadier on her own is altogether more human, more vulnerable.
Sadier’s warm accented tones have in the past been associated with an aloof, sometimes obliquely political detachment, but in this setting – deprived of beats, electronics and the airy jazz feel of her solo recordings – the essential emotion of her singing is allowed to shine through. ‘Fluid Sand’ (about, she whispers, divorce) never becomes melancholy, and a new song about how “Mathematicians are never depressed because they’re open to infinite possibilities” offers an intelligent optimism, supported by a buoyant tune. Singing in her native French, it seems she is able to be more emotionally direct without resorting to histrionics; she has examined her heart, she says in ‘Ceci Est Le Cœur’, and found the contents educational. ’Statues Can Bend’ is another song about hearts – this time, hard ones – and to these Sadier applies her scientific eye to emotion to draw uncomfortable conclusions.
She introduces ‘International Colouring Contest’ as “tonight’s Stereolab cover version”, prefacing it with the story of song’s protagonist Lucia Pamela, an American musician who claimed to have recorded on the moon. Even in its rawest form, what has always been one of Stereolab’s sweetest recordings retains its core elements of charm and playful smarts. And when Sadier appeals to the crowd to sing along to the ‘ba ba bas’, a twinge of sadness is flet at the indefinite passing of the band who made this kind of thing their own. But now is not a time for looking back; seizing the emotional watershed Sadier launches into her “angry song”, ‘Wash & Dance’, which she describes as “a call to consciousness.” Sung in French to a stark guitar backing, it ends with an uncharacteristically frustrated scream that surprises the assembled crowd.
Two songs inspired by her love of water (‘The Swim’, from a collaborate EP released last year) and Pier Paolo Pasolini (‘Lost Language’, from the Monade album Monstre Cosmic) follow, and Sadier gives a little whoop of joy at finally getting to use her effects pedal. ’Un Express’, an earlier Monade song about loving someone but being denied, is again in French, and it still comes as a jolt to hear Sadier sing the words “L’amour” (Stereolab seemingly not often concerned with something so mundane as romance). Returning to the stage for a two-song encore, Sadier performs two more songs. ‘Fire’ seems to be new, while ‘Becoming’ originates from Monade’s 2005 album A Few Steps More, and both embrace the repetitive structures and non-verbal singing that is Sadier’s stock in trade. The latter’s declaration “I should rejoice for who I am / I should combat all obstacles and traps,” neatly sums up the winning contrast of vulnerability and strength that Laetitia Sadier’s solo work embodies. Long may she continue.
Photographed by Michael Gallacher