I have wanted to see a full Xiu Xiu set for years, but they always seem to play Atlanta at the worst times -- usually when i have a business trip. Well, with the economy hemorrhaging, my employer is not sending me on any trips, so i was able, finally, to see Xiu Xiu in my hometown.
I arrived at The Drunken Unicorn at about 9:45, and the first act had just taken the stage. This was a two-piece act, and they never introduced themselves (although they might have done so at the start of their set, prior to my arrival). According to the fliers at the club, they were called Common Eider, King Eider. I have no clue what that is supposed to mean. This is, apparently, the new project of someone named Rob Fisk, who was also in Deerhoof. I have heard of Deerhoof, but have no clue what they sound like.
Mostly this act made creepy, light music from distorted guitar, voice, and violin or acoustic guitar. The music moved at odd rhythms and had no real beat, and often it swelled up into a discordant wall of noise. However, there were moments of real beauty in and amongst the noise. For example, the last tune started with a long droning violin bit, then added in some guitar noise as the two members sang lightly and eerily. The sound continued to swell until it was just a wall of noise, but that bit with the drone and the guitar feedback and the two voices was really beautiful.
Is this the Common, or the King of the Eider?
Overall, this was kind of a mixed bag. About half of their set consisted of them trying to make weird and irritating sounds, while the other half was delicate beauty. I donít know what to think of this act.
About one hour after we arrived, the second act took the stage. This was the band of one Carla Bozulich, who used to be in The Geraldine Fibbers (who i did not care for) and was also in Ethyl Meatplow (i really liked one record of theirs, back in the 1990s). Bozulich is calling her current act Evangelista, and this act features a four piece backing band including a drummer, a violinist, a guy with a keyboard and some electronics, and a bassist. Ms. Bozulich sang, and sometimes flailed at a guitar.
The band started with a few minutes of oddly droning noise, and i was expecting another set of avant-garde, formless music. However, after a few minutes a rhythm developed and an actual song formed. It was not a bad song either, but Bozulich came across as searingly intense.
The intense Ms. Bozulich.
The second tune the band did was even better, with a nice frenetic organ sound coming out of the keyboard, sawing violin, and loud rhythms. On the tune after that, Bozulich put down her guitar and screeched angrily. She is a very intense performer. A few more songs came and went, including one that sounded vaguely Middle Eastern, and then they ended with a long tune where Bozulich sang while walking through the crowd and climbing on various people. She tended to climb on younger male fans, who tended to act as if they really enjoyed her leaning on them. Huh.
Evangelista in action.
Overall, again i would say that this was a mixed set. There were some really cool songs, and a few that just never seemed to form a cohesive whole. And it also took the band, inexplicably, several minutes to start each song. It wasn't as if they were tuning either, mostly people just stood around. Very weird. Ms. Bozulich is certainly an intense performer, and when the band was doing rhythm heavy songs, it sounded great. If only they had done a whole set like that!
Oh well, that's what you get with opening acts.
It was just after midnight when Xiu Xiu took the stage. The only other time i had seen them was a brief SxSW set, and then they were only a two-piece. Tonight, all three band members were here.
Caralee McElroy on some sort of breath driven thingie...
I have enjoyed their records to date. Xiu Xiu push the boundaries of pop music by making songs that have weird rhythms and generally strange song structures. At times the music is achingly delicate, and at times it is a swirling crescendo of sound. And yet, somehow, through all the weird structures, the fluctuations in tone, and the clanking percussion, the music is, ultimately, dance music. Everything that Xiu Xiu played tonight, including the songs which were mostly Jamie Stewart and his weird voice, singing as if he were in physical agony, even those songs were somehow catchy. I don't know how they pulled that off, but somehow they did.
Jamie Stewart hiding behind the odd percussion.
Personally, i thought that Xiu Xiu were brilliant live. The music ebbed and flowed quite nicely, and i just kept tapping my feet and grinning like a happy fool throughout the set. They manage to come across better live than on record, which is something of a feat.
Jamie Stewart singing.
I cannot endorse this band's live show enough. I know that their recorded output comes across as very strange, but when they are up there on stage, all they wanna do is make you dance. Granted, it's a strange dance with lots of odd shifts and jumps, but the beat is there. And that is a good thing.