Friday, May 23, 2008

Xiu Xiu - Live @ Whelans, Dublin 22/05/08, A Promise

If you think this looks bad, you should see the vinyl cover (which I didn't buy) (and which isn't censored). It's very classy, in its own way.

This was the first and mostly only Xiu Xiu album that I heard. The reason being, it would be nice to have an X in my CD collection, and also because the cover turns up on some of those 'Worst Album Covers Ever' lists. Later I heard Fabulous Muscles, and didn't like it much. The main reason I was going to this gig was as a favour to the friend (mr x. indeed) whom I got into Xiu Xiu and, as these things happen, ran with the idea. However, I really don't regret turning up for this show.

Even if I wasn't much of a Xiu Xiu fan (pronounced 'shew or 'shoe shoe', as in Xiaolin) there is something wonderful about Jamie Stewart's music, despite of and because of all its twisted qualities. I put on A Promise to listen to this week, for the first time in a while. Compared to the supposedly more pop-oriented Fabulous Muscles (or the probably louder debut Knife Play), A Promise is an exercise in semi-acoustic, tense minimalism.

The gentle, haunting melodies which open 'Sad Pony Guerilla Girl' reminded me a lot why I like the minimalist, esoteric sounds of Si Schroeder, and there's even a hint of Slint-like sparseness in the guitar work. Along with this "beautiful nylon progression", then there are also the quiet interjections of more agressive noise, the eventual break "into the kind of sadomasochistic no-fi explosion anyone already familiar with Xiu Xiu would expect" (Pitchfork).

Minimalism, with carefully placed bursts of over-saturated catharsis, is generally something I've always been a fan of. It's the basic description of Moss Icon-type 'emo' music, for a start. But in more subtle forms it crops up all over the place.

Ironic, then, that the same night that Xiu Xiu was playing the Boss was playing the first of several massive gigs in Dublin. Springsteen's Nebraska, with its Suicide-homage 'State Trooper' and its generally near-unbearable levels of emotional tension, is one of my favourite lo-fi records. And apart from that and Born to Run, I've never bothered to listen to anything else by him. (Maybe when I'm 30).Whelans was a welcome return from the moderately large size of Vicar Street and Battles last week, and you've got to wonder whether Bruce would have liked to have been out at our little niche gig rather than at his own huge concert. (Ok, that's a dumb question). Minimalism is a great thing, in small doses.

Support act for this leg of the tour was a nice young man by the name of Chris Garneau. His set sounded a lot more like Xiu Xiu than Xiu Xiu actually did, in some ways. A series of quiet keyboard songs bookended by two songs on possibly a melodeon sitting down on the floor of the stage.

Then Xiu Xiu came on to set up all their own instruments, which included a stand of tiny cymbals, with a bag full of drumsticks to share between lead singer Jamie Stewart and keyboardist and cousin Caralee McElroy, and an electric cello/upright bass for the rhythm section. Jamie Stewart's soundcheck mainly consisted of him doing drum rolls on his single snare and saying:

'Shalom, shalom... salaam, salaam'

Peace in the Middle East perhaps? Although I guess it makes sense for testing out both hard and soft speech sounds. Either way, it was pretty cool. Other things to note were that both Jamie Stewart and his cousin had their nails painted, and that their electrical equipment was taped together with pink electrical tape.

Anyway, Xiu Xiu absolutely rocked. This was their first ever show in Ireland, as well as the most punk rock show I've seen so far this year. (The promoters, Forever Presents, were the same people who brought Dan Deacon around the last couple of times). Essentially, I wasn't really expecting them to sound like they did, but I enjoyed every moment of it.

Highlight of the night was obviously 'Apistat Commander', as it was probably the only song that I knew already, but the performance - second to last song - was fantastic. It's a track that the Pitchfork reviewer for A Promise describes as "a quivering opera of existential agony that swells from its breathless introduction to a distorted chorus sounding like the Magnetic Fields covering The Cure's '100 Years'" and "one of the most arresting pieces of experimental pop I've come across in years". Pitchfork seem to write a good deal about Xiu Xiu - indie of that ilk and all that - but that seems like honest praise.

It was the song that got me into A Promise, and I guess too into a lot of electro, noisy pop since. And when I say 'noisy', I mean absolute emotional freakout kind of noise. Jamie Stewart was smashing the hell out of his snare drum for this song, and likewise with his guitar for the following final song. Seriously, this is the sort of stuff I go to gigs for. Post. Punk. Rock.

The Sigla Blog - Musical Rooms Part 26: Xiu Xiu

Those Geese Were Stupified: another review of the gig - kinda slightly less enthusiastic

Xiu ('Sad Pony Guerilla Girl' and 'Apistat Commander' from A Promise)

Xiu Xiu on eMusic


Tim said...

Great review! Have been meaning to check them out so will have to give them a listen soon...

gabbagabbahey said...

Those two songs + 'Ian Curtis Wishlist' are amazing, and A Promise in general is great, but I don't think it's meant to be the best one to start with... After last night's show, I'm psyched to check out their latest, Women as Lovers. Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

Had a ticket, but needed to travel with work at last minute. Interesting to hear you say that they are much more punk rock sounding live...

gabbagabbahey said...

yeah, I wasn't really sure what to expect (not knowing much about them, really), but on the basis of A Promise I was half-reckoning on something a lot more minimalist. That sucks about not being able to go - I wasn't expecting much out of this gig, but as it happened, it was really, really good.

Karl said...

I didn't mean to give an unenthusiastic impression! I thought it was great, better than I expected even. I just put the negative stuff in so I don't end up saying everything is brilliant for everything I go to.

Definitely agree with most of what you said here.

The noise is great. Nobody I've seen has made such loaded noise.