Xiu Xiu + On!Air!Library!

Xiu Xiu + On!Air!Library!


Xiu Xiu
On!Air!Library!

Xiu Xiu’s singer and principal songwriter, Jamie Stewart, is a frail and emotive lightning rod who sparks confessional lyrics that would make even precocious bedroom whisperer Bright Eyes blush. This is because Stewart’s telling accounts of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, dominance, suicide, and despair are simultaneously compelling and often close to unbearable. As his voice alternates from an Ian Curtis-tinged waver to a tiny, shaky falsetto, listeners experience a tormented narrative similar to a disturbing slide show of damaging and haunting memories. Even a song about a loving relationship with friend and bandmate Caralee McElroy, “Little Panda McElroy (b)”, is melancholy, delicate, and strange (“I can stop lying / I can stop punching my own face / I can stop stealing money… I can do it / because of you”). Unfortunately, Xiu Xiu’s kind of intimate and somber storytelling is lost on the percentage of the sold out crowd at Tonic who are too restless and boozed up to appreciate it. The audience behaves mostly during local nouveau shoegazer outfit On!Air!Library!, whose hypnotically swirling set is running late, and well after midnight. The addition of a live drummer, and a proficient one at that, creates an added emphasis to their signature swells and maintains a pace that prevented the awkward pauses that have previously plagued them between songs by eliminating the need for drum machine, sequencer, and confusing electronic knobs. From afar, only the tops of the well-coifed heads of identical twins Claudia and Alley Deheza showed, as they were studiously intent on looking at their respective instruments of keyboard and guitar. Member Phillip Wann seemed content to lurk in the shadows, unless stricken with occasional bouts of feedback energy. The Deheza sisters also seemed to be having trouble hearing each other over their own din and failed to harmonize during a few key moments. But, the audience was forgiving and largely impressed, as judged by their genuine applause. My guess is this is a precursor to larger things for On!Air!Library!, including the steadily building buzz around their forthcoming album of the same name. Xiu Xiu took the stage shortly afterwards as a duo, a considerably stripped down arrangement from what I’ve seen previously on a past tour. Jamie Stewart and Caralee McElroy set up their harmoniums, keyboards, percussion and guitar to the loud and drunken request of one woman in the front for “I Luv The Valley OH!”, the second track off latest effort Fabulous Muscles. This is a song that I am also really eager to hear, as it is a great big booming number that hits on the dark retro-pop feeling of the Smiths and the Church. But unless they’ve been prompted for requests, audience members who shout song titles at bands when they play are generally annoying and miss the point of live performance, which is that the band is not your own personal jukebox. Also to be noted is that the band is not a live soundtrack to your own personal party. Often these things are forgotten when alcohol is involved. Xiu Xiu does not make what could be considered by any stretch to be party music, and the contrast between the moody new wave of their opening song “Crank Heart” and the disco bass thumping up through the floor from the dance party downstairs that had attracted downtown demi-celeb Vincent Gallo, was distracting. It was akin to a bunch of serious grad students trying to have a poetry reading upstairs from a strip club. This, of course, is far less annoying than the loud game of lesbian Marco Polo that five raucous patrons were playing by shouting “Dyke!” “Big Dyke!” “Alex Dyke!” “Dyke in the front!” “Dyke in the back” from various stations in the crowd, so that no matter where you were in the room, you had a loud, screaming idiot in your ear. One earnest fan is greeted with lots of ridicule and mocking when she tries to shush them, reminding me of an immature scene taken straight out of middle school. McElroy and Stewart soldier on with straight, if maybe wooden expressions, and the strength of Stewart’s voice cuts through the superfluous noise with a deliberate chop. Things are going well until about the fourth song when Stewart breaks a string. His plea for another guitar is met with more annoying audience screeching to which he rightly snaps, “If you’re not in a band, then don’t talk to me.” After recovering with an instrument loan from On!Air!Library!, they launch into “Clowne Towne”, with McElroy providing curious and strangely timed percussion on various noisemakers that she hits and spins. Stewart sings assumedly about his “true self and your true love,” including a “true father [that] smashed his hands through the glass”, a “true love [that] has drunk herself into not being able to pay her rent,” a “true brother [that] has betrayed you” with the result being that “your true self has become weak, alone and annoying, a true ridiculous dumb ass.” Miraculously, the rowdy troublemakers begin to quiet down, perhaps sobered up by songs like “Nieces Pieces” in which Stewart tells his niece that he “can’t wait to tell you your grandpa made your mommy play stripper while your uncle watched.” The way he pronounces “mommy” makes him sound childlike and frightened, as if he were experiencing something so horrible in the retelling. They close, thankfully, on “I Luv The Valley, OH!” which comes out slower and almost dub-like compared to the grand echo on the album. But the big payoff is the well-timed scream that Stewart puts in the middle of the song, it’s a release that is purely cathartic for him and us, and with all the difficulties that have plagued his life and this performance tonight, genuine and affecting.

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