As I walked to the doors of Barboza, my expectation was that Laetitia Sadier would have drawn a large crowd. The new venue opened up recently underneath the distinctive Neumos club, right in the heart of Seattle‘s vibrant Capitol Hill community. The more casual feel of the hall, including lounge style seating in the back, seemed like a perfect match for the former Stereolab member’s airy crooning. I walked in while the opener, Orca Team, was still playing, but I was surprised, nevertheless, at how few people were dotted around the venue. This was particularly surprising since I’d just come from downtown near the sold-out Beach House show, a group that seems to follow heavily in the vein of Sadier’s own style. Twenty or so people gathered near the stage and a few more sat around the venue with drinks. It struck me that Orca Team was another three person band who, like the headliners, had a female guitarist, which is surprisingly unusual and perhaps shameful in its noteworthiness. The show was early, so I attributed some of the emptiness of the room to people arriving late, but, as Laetitia took the stage, there were still no more than a few dozen people in the venue. Regardless, those who were in attendance were passionate, respectful, and ecstatic to be there.
After 19 years together, Stereolab took an indefinite hiatus in 2009. The British band had achieved international success and received praise from music critics for years. They were known for merging krautrock elements with an electropop vibe, while using analog instruments like moog synthesizers. The group referenced many influential philosophers and artists in their lyrics, which were penned by Sadier, both in her native French and in English, and often had a vague political undertone, alluding to the tragedy of war, or giving Marxist critiques of global affairs. A year after their disbandment, Laetitia released her first solo album, The Trip, on Drag City. This year she released her second solo work, Silencio, for which she was touring.
For those not familiar with Sadier’s sound, it is different from much of Stereolab’s more repetitive and upbeat material. To me, the closest comparison with her former project would be the much sadder and more contemplative sound of “Monstre Sacre,” off of the album, Emperor Tomato Ketchup. When listening to her two solo releases, it was easy to hear the similarities, and that specific song naturally sprang to mind.
There’s a certain lamentation that underlies Sadier’s solo work, along with a strong and very clearly stated political stance. Her lyrics have always had a political bent, but it seems as though she has found a new freedom to express her personal beliefs now that she is representing only herself. If I have any criticism of Laetitia, it would be that some of her lyrics can come off as too heavy handed politically. Though I don’t disagree with most of her sentiments, it can make it hard for me, personally, to maintain an engagement with some songs just as songs. Unfortunately, the words can sometimes snap the listener out of the mood that the music itself paints, as the subject matter seems to be going in another direction. Political beliefs are a difficult thing to state in song, and Laetitia definitely flirts with both success and failure on that mark.
The trios presence on stage was calm and warm. Laetitia and bassist, Julien Gasc (also of Stereolab) both had an air of concentration mixed with a slight shyness. Drummer, James Elkington, displayed incredible talent, but maintained a minimal stage presence. Both bandmates allowed Sadier to truly be the center of attention, despite her somewhat reserved personality. All three looked comfortable and casual, which thoroughly suited both the venue and crowd. She may have a more tempered personality, but the singer/guitarist exudes plenty of charm and charisma. Her soft spoken and heavily accented English punctuated the silences between songs, and a lopsided grin danced on her face through most of the set.
Thankfully, the small crowd ended up being a boon to the show. Every audience member had the freedom to move around and to see everyone on stage. Laetitia was also able to make her own connections with audience members. On a personal note, as I was trying to photograph the show from different angles, I kept running into one specific person who was filming the entire show. He had the best vantage point, and I very much wanted to take a couple photos from his location. At one point, I noticed that he had moved, so I squeezed into his space really quickly. Now, I was standing directly in front of the singer, and she looked me directly in the eyes and grinned at me. I became very self-aware and felt too awkward to photograph her, now knowing that she was acutely aware of my presence. I managed to snap a photo, but then moved immediately away from that spot. The man who was filming was back a few minutes later, reclaiming his post. At the end of the set, Sadier introduced a song, pointed at the man, and then said, “This song is dedicated to my boyfriend.” Suddenly, her look of amusement at my appearance in that spot made a lot more sense.
In the end, the night was peaceful and relaxed. All three band members had a quiet intensity about them that was both engaging and tranquil. The front-woman took ample opportunity to chat with the audience and joke around, and, while the overall attitude was reserved, she was also not afraid to get more aggressive during guitar solos. Laetitia Sadier is a woman who is clearly very passionate and her passion plays out on both her face and through her guitar playing. Meanwhile, her voice maintains the cool edge that she has always possessed. The show was fantastic and it felt like a dream to be in such an intimate setting with such a monumental figure in music.