Upstaging Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart is no mean feat but Tune-Yards' Merrill Garbus made even that look easy.
Two things are all but guaranteed at a Xiu Xiu show: frontman Jamie Stewart will turn in an impassioned, harrowing performance and at least some portion of the audience will flee as a result. The band might not clear out a room quite like it used to -- at this point, most folks seem to know what to expect -- but Stewart's performances are still as unflinchingly distressing as they ever were. Luckily, the music helps the confrontation go down a bit easier, pegging pixilated melodies and driving rhythms to Stewart's narratives of violence and exploitation. In their latest incarnation as a two-piece (Stewart and multi-instrumentalist Angela Seo), Xiu Xiu proved that they're still capable of making plenty of noise, employing guitars, live percussion, electronic instrumentation, various toy whistles and the Hello Kitty-clad Nintendo DS that features so heavily on their latest full-length, Dear God, I Hate Myself.
As good as Xiu Xiu were, opener Tune-Yards, a.k.a. Merrill Garbus, just might have stolen the show with her whimsical pop collages. Building loops on the fly from drum hits, ukulele strums, vocal chants and other spontaneous noises, Garbus proved to be a skillful and charismatic performer who had little trouble winning over the sold out crowd. While her loop station skills recall Andrew Bird's, her sound is more global in its reach, incorporating bits of indie-pop, hip-hop, West African guitar-pop and various traditional musics. And while she employed a bassist on a handful of songs, she carried the majority of them all by herself -- a fact that made Xiu Xiu's two-person lineup look downright excessive.