by carl wilson

New Songs, New Ceremonies

Tonight's special-edition Wavelength at the Gladstone Hotel with Xiu Xiu was special, all right.

It looks difficult to translate Xiu Xiu's material to a live setting (almost as difficult as translating it into words) - not technically so much as emotionally. Yet Jamie Stewart was able to engage intensely with his beyond-intimate material, at times seemingly in raptures and at others in jagged, painful touch with his subject matters. And yet he did not hold himself remote. It seemed demanding human work, which is probably why they keep their sets short. [...]

Xiu Xiu music is squirm culture, and in that sense not entirely unrelated to the sort of embarrassment that results from emo and reality tv, but the incompleteness, the unmediated and unanalyzed recreations, and the resulting privacy and layeredness of the work takes it much beyond the confessional; each song is like a short film or play, or like an excerpt from a longer film or play: In medias res.

(Geeky but relevant aside: Rickie on My So-Called Life talking to his teacher Mr. Katimski (both of them closeted):
Rickie: Okay, well, um, you know that essay that I never handed in, about what Odysseus wants? Um, can, I get an extension on that?
Katimski: 'kay...
Rickie: 'Cause I read it. It's, it's about this lonely guy that wanders the world for like, many years, right?
Katimski: Right.
Rickie: And the way that, that it starts, like, in the middle, I, what's that called again? I know you told us.
Katimski: In medias res.
Rickie: Right.
Katimski: It's in the middle of things.
Rickie: Right. Uh, 'cause see, right now it's sort of like, it's sort of like I don't have a place to live.
)

Before we cast Stewart as Odysseus, it's a relief to see that (like Rickie, in the end) he does not have to do it solo. Caralee McElroy's contributions were vital musically. They both played harmoniums, McElroy played synthesizer, drum machine, bell cymbals (played at one point with vibrators, if what I could make out was accurate), triangle and various other percussion, and Stewart was otherwise mostly on guitar. At times the sound - house-gamalan-ambient through a Joy Division filter - was utterly enveloping. But in the quieter, tenser bits, the soft-spoken warmth between the two players helped open the process up, lend it a social dimension, which aids the spectator to fight off the reflex to dismiss it all as narcissism: It is narcissistic, but not just. (And also, so what?)

It would be great to see the full-band version, though the full band does not really exist anymore, I suppose. In one famous incident that I gather circulates on video, L.A. drag queen Vaginal Cream Davis spontaneously gave Stewart a blow job in the course of a show. That must have been a different sort of evening.

I was disappointed that they encored with Fabulous Muscles, the title song of the latest album, which I think is one of Stewart's weakest pieces, the one where the grotesqueness feels more forced than precise, more of a shock game than he usually stoops to. Its arrival felt like a rebuke: "Okay, cheering, clapping people, you think you liked us, but do you like this?" Even then, with this band, I'm willing to consider that I'm just missing the song; after all, that was my first reaction to their work entire.

The crowd was extremely supportive, but it was talkative too. You hear tales about hushed Xiu Xiu crowds breaking down in tears, but this one was chatty and social and dancey and boppy. Fun, but it made it difficult to engage on the same, er, wavelength as the band. (Also, the Gladstone stage is rather low, so it was difficult to see - and the bar seems to have doubled its drink prices: double whiskey, $12!).

It didn't help that heavy rock group Anagram preceded Xiu Xiu. Though variety is the spice of Wavelength, and maybe the rock-out was meant to purge energies to let people focus afterwards, in this case curating the night around the headliners might have been the better choice. But I was so happy to find that Les Mouches were also on the bill. They had to be. This newish Toronto trio (two guitars and Rob Gordon's mindblowing drumming) draws on Xiu Xiu a fair bit: Owen Pallett's vocals share the sweet-whisper-awful-scream dynamics of Stewart's, and the noise-to-music ratio is related, as are some themes. Besides which, they played the best set I've seen by them yet, with a handcrafted DIY light show and great new songs that introduce some foursquare rock to their folk-noise formulae. Owen tells me their new album is mastered. I can't wait to hear it. They're a minority taste but Les Mouches is my current favourite Torontopian band. Though they didn't upstage Xiu Xiu they came thrillingly close.

Read More | Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Monday, March 15 at 2:44 AM | Linking Posts

 

COMMENTS

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson