Thursday, March 11, 2010

Xiu Xiu at Drunken Unicorn, Atlanta; March 6, 2010

You know that guy I mentioned at last Saturday night's concert, the one with the 1980s new-wave haircut? After Girl In A Coma got off stage, he went on. Turns out he was Jamie Stewart of the band Xiu Xiu.

Xiu Xiu is pronounced "shoe-shoe," but pronunciation's the least difficult thing about Xiu Xiu. Their goal is not to be likable or easily digested. Their lyrics are about themselves, their friends, and family, and range from tales of suicide and child abuse to bulimia and the war in Iraq. Their latest album is titled, not untypically, Dear God, I Hate Myself (they performed the title track Saturday night). Difficult stuff to listen to. I think the opening song of their set was about incest, but I couldn't make out the lyrics that well. Their typical song structure consists of a soft opening section with words about some painfully sensitive subject, interspersed with odd percussion and sound effects, culminating in a loud atonal freak-out of machine glitches and pops, as if in emotional reaction to the pain in their lyrics. It's hard to describe, so here's their cover of Bjork's Isobel for a taste:

I've heard their music described as "nightmare pop," but my question is who besides myself would go to a concert like this?

A lot of people, apparently, as the Drunken Unicorn filled up by the time they took the stage (which frankly isn't very hard for that tiny venue). I overheard someone say to another "I see you at every Xiu Xiu show in Atlanta," so they must have some sort of regular following. I can't say that I liked their music and wasn't sorry to see their set end (they didn't play an encore). But for some reason, I found myself on line the next morning searching for their music, and I'll probably go see them again the next time they're in town.

At this point, Xiu Xiu are just two musicians, Stewart on guitar and vocals, and Angela Seo on keyboards and assorted percussion, replacing former member Caralee McElroy, who left to join dark electro-rockers Cold Cave. Like Morrissey and Robert Smith of the Cure, Stewart can project the impression that he and his audience share a deep, dark emotional secret, but Seo is impassive on the stage, expressionless, gamely adding effects to the music and doing whatever the song requires. If you search for their videos on line, you'll find that the song Grey Death requires Seo to emerge naked from a bathtub full of green water, while Dear God, I Hate Myself requires her to gag herself with her fingers for the duration of the song until she finally vomits on Stewart, standing next to her eating a candy bar.

No wonder McElroy left. According to The New Yorker, Cold Cave "employs vintage synthesizers to play glooomy post-rock. Though there are brief moments of pop accessibility in the music (largely thanks to the ethereal vocals of Caralee McElroy), the overall posture of the band remains pointedly grim, often to the point of (possibly intentional) self-parody."

So naturally, Cold Cave decided to let McElroy and her pop accessibility go, and instead hired Jennifer Clavin, formely of the now-defunct Mika Miko. Two other Mika Miko members, Jenna Thornhill-DeWitt and Seth Densham, have joined The Strange Boys, whom I'll see next weekend opening for Spoon. There's got to be six degrees of separation in there somewhere. To cheer things up from the relative bleakness of Xiu Xiu, here's a video of Cold Cave from back in the McElroy days.

By the way, that's not McElroy in the video; it's avant-garde drag artist Marti Domination.

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