Xiu Xiu

The Echo, April 11

It was good to see lots and lots of kids out at the Echo this past Friday night for Xiu Xiu’s LA appearance, the same kids that probably listen to way too much Indie 103 and have way too may band friends on MySpace. You see, Jamie Stewart’s long-running musical project traffics in jacked dance music, severely art-damaged indie rock, and deconstructed post-punk. In other words, the kids at tonight’s show are showing a bit of musical bravery and yearning for something outside the norm just by being here. Good for the kids.

The last time I saw Xiu Xiu perform, it was just Stewart and his cousin/bandmate Caralee McElroy up on stage, a backing of programmed beats supporting their guitars and minimal percussion. Tonight’s full band lineup was good, but felt a bit chaotic and untethered in comparison. Stewart seemed slightly annoyed by the soundman’s inability to match the settings they had worked out prior to the show as well, and he politely but pointedly asked for more whatever in the monitors, “like we had it at soundcheck,” more than once. The stage was full of various percussive instruments and cymbals from around the world, which McElroy and Stewart banged on in between flaring guitar chords and intimate accordion keystrokes. Charmingly misplaced synth swells washed out over quieter songs, while noisy numbers instigated tinnitus in the crowd packing the hot venue.

And, of course, Stewart’s trademark melodramatic vocals, fraught with tremble and tension, rang out over the whole morass. He manages to infuse his singing with more theater than either Morrissey or any character in a Douglas Sirk weepie. Somehow, he always veers away from utter camp, even in a song like “Fabulous Muscles,” while still teetering on the edge of emotional breakdown.

Xiu Xiu’s music is both cold and inviting, personal and inhospitable, due to the creative contrast between Stewart’s lyrical world and the experimental nature of the music. If I had to pick between the two incarnations, I think I’d go with the more stripped down version instead of this full band. Even so, Xiu Xiu is a far cry from most of what you’ve heard before and a very unique live act. Stewart is a singular songwriter, and he manages to make even the most difficult moments appealing.

Photos by Jonah Flicker.

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