Bimbo's 365 Club
1025 Columbus Ave (btwn Francisco & Chestnut) [Map]
Drinks Consumed: Believe it or not, zero. Zip. Nil. Nada. None.
Review at the Owl Mag
The Berlin-based duo Stereo Total, consisting of French singer/drummer Françoise Cactus and German guitarist/synth madman Brezel Göring, is what you would end up with if you crossed France Gall with Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori and the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret with Ian MacKaye. While that sounds like the worst act in history, the duo is actually great to watch—a little witty and a lot absurd. And absurdity is what makes a Stereo Total show a completely unpretentious evening of fun. Alternating between lo-fi electronica and punk-infused indie rock, the duo, formed in the early 1990s, has earned a loyal following—hip and unhip alike—who know every word to every song whether the lyrics are in English, French, German, or jibberish.
The duo burst onto the Bimbo's stage with energy that lasted through an hour-long set and two encores, even when they forgot the words and rhythms to songs ("It goes boom boom!" said Françoise as she tried to remember the drum part to an old track). The duo is all about catchy pop tracks, most of them somehow related to dancing, music, or kinky sex. And almost all of them are so cheerful-sounding that they'd fit seamlessly into a soundtrack for Katamari rolling. On top of the punky electro pop, Stereo Total's songs consist of ridiculous lyrics like "Let's go to the Holiday Inn / and I will show you something" ("Holiday Innn"); "I don't like the pretty folk / can't stand the DJ / don't like the records that he plays, no!" ("Everybody in the Discotheque (I Hate)"); and "J'aime l'amour à trois" which, loosely translated, means, "I dig threesomes." They are simultaneously sophisticated in their mocking of the world and incredibly geeky.
Their bizarre repertoire of covers ranges from Otis Rush's "Violent Love" to The Plastics' "I love you, Oh no!" (changed to "I Love You, ONO" in honor of the one and only Yoko) to Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It." Genre and language be damned: no song is safe from the Stereo Total treatment. And a Stereo Total cover isn't your average cover—between Françoise's adorable voice, simple drums, and thick French accent, and Brezel's spastic electronic beats and chords on a DIY-looking rectangular guitar, their covers are more like reinventions.
The genius of their live performance is that of these songs come complete with some silly schtick. For "L'amour à 3" they brought an audience member on stage to sing and dance with them. (After all, how can you sing about the joy of the threeway with only two people on stage?) Brezel used an ironing board as a percussion instrument early on in the show and, later, successfully dove into the crowd and surfed his way back to the stage unscathed. The air-humping, hip-thrusting dance to "Push It" would have only been better if they'd slipped into black spandex bodysuits, red boots, and the Salt-N-Pepa equivalent to NASCAR team jackets worn in the 1986 "Push It" video. The audience got as into the performance as the band was, screaming out song requests (the Germans behind me were particularly vocal about hearing "Wir Tanzen Im 4-Eck"). It's impossible to pick a highlight, but the crowd exploded when they played "Musique Automatique" and ran on stage to unleash their dorkiest dances for "Everybody in the Discotheque (I Hate)." There was a near incident when an earnest fan busted out a breakdance handstand and almost kicked over Brezel's guitar, but fortunately everyone made it off stage without injury.
The only warning to be given is this: if you take yourself and the shows you go to seriously, these guys are not for you. But if you are okay with bouncing shamelessly in public, love infectious punky pop music and funky electronic beats, and like to go to shows to have fun and not just be seen, Stereo Total is definitely a band to check out. If they had played two nights, I would've gone back.