Monday, August 30, 2004


Xiu Xiu at the Smell on Friday, August 27, Downtown LA.
The heat of anticipation, the neck turning, exposed for a chopping. Entering a queer womb, the queerest of wombs.

Xiu Xiu is a conundrum, a frail lamentation of a musical entity fronted by a man named Jamie Stewart. These are his songs, his trembly, wavering, supplicant, antagonistic howl wrapped in oblong, bizarre, synthetic rhythms. Except for the rare exception, when people are first initiated into the world of Xiu Xiu—with its chaotic grating and bursts of soft submissive beauty (like the beauty intrinsic in the face of a person injected with a head-full of mossy, terrible memory, of that time when you lost all control, all agency and let terrible things happen to you because, well, you’re still not sure why. Perhaps you wanted to be loved. Sounds right.), when people hear this spectacle, the sound of a man/boy breaking into pieces before you, a tragic grimace pulling his face upwards towards some empty space between his eyes and the ceiling, this space where the lusty and cold ghosts of the past, man-shaped, flutter in colorful vignettes of memories and empathies, specters of madness and fuzzy solace—when they hear this, most people I’ve seen laugh at first because that’s all they can do to reconcile the soft hard spectacle creeping into their minds through expanding and contracting ears.

But you might very well get to a place where you’re not laughing at Xiu Xiu or quickly turning it off, not ready for a music so singular and singularly difficult but ultimately easy because it’s accurate and necessary to have our demons in a conversation with each other. That’s what Jamie Stewart’s music does: thrusts his (or someone’s) demons into a hushed and awkward conversation with your demons. Thus it’s hard to listen to Xiu Xiu all the time (except during crazy times). Think of David Lynch as queer and in his late 20s, singing his strange creative subconscious rather than making films.

The show
There’s something about WHO goes (or who would go) to a Xiu Xiu show that makes you know that the crowd is certain to be here for the music, clutching itself in unison in the awkward and lilting, unconscious posturing of one damaged and wearing fitted denim. Upright hipsters, youngish.

And after some laborious sound-checking, Xiu Xiu takes the stage, peppered with a keyboard, a harmonium, some percussion triangles and gongs, an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, various synths, a sputtering drum machine and then, of course, Jamie Stewart with his beautiful female counterpart, Caralee McElroy, the lanky and nurturing soft faced cherub (on about five occasions, she quickly yet affectionately would touch Stewart on the arm or shoulder, as if to say, but not too loudly, “everything’s fine because I love you and understand you, Jamie Stewart, oh you…”) to Stewart’s dour, vaguely pouty, fragile-yet-emboldened young man.

Hugging an autoharp like it’s a strummable teddy bear, Stewart gracefully fumbles us into the land of the Xiu Xiu. “Bog People” blubbers out, settling us for the full force, a musical acclimation as our bodies acclimate to the thick, lumbering heat shrouding us all, the Smell living up to its odiferous namesake reputation. And then the ranges of quiet melodic sung crumblings, discordant tonal chords, the harmonium’s wheezy yawn, spiritual, church-like. I have never been to church. But I’ve prayed.

Xiu Xiu’s music has a tendency to boor itself into deep and fragile memories. Your relationship with the band is tenuous and connected to those times when something crazy happens that’s queer and wrenching with a staggering chaotic lurch and you can only gain consolation through confrontations and reflections of those vectors of feelings in the form of Xiu Xiu’s hushed then screaming songs. Xiu Xiu connects to your seemingly important (emphasis on the “imp”) narrative obsessions, narrative being the story we tell ourselves about ourselves every morning we wake up until we go to sleep. Sleep is where we lose the plot. But come morning, we grasp at some strands, catch new ones in our dreams, and assemble our plot rife with new twists even if they’re the same old twists.

Or maybe the huge Sapporo I slammed in the alleyway and the whisky sipped back at home has just started to hit. Cause Stewart sounds like he’s singing the blues. Metaphorically.

So seeing Xiu Xiu with my own warped furrows of emotional distress and melodramatics and a mellow, ruminative buzz on, made the experience of this well executed (intimate then aggressive then intimately aggressive) show a rather moot point. I wasn’t even there. I was, while standing in a dank underground music box in Downtown LA, suddenly thrust a year and a half back, to Santa Cruz, Xiu Xiu’s “Sad Pony Guerilla Girl,” my anthem for a few weeks of a big gay mindfuck named Tino. Stewart sings waveringly melodic, shaking through the strings of his acoustic guitar (electric tonight and a little different, more confident), “I like my neighborhood. I like my gun. Driving my little car. I am your girl and I will protect you.” And I feel like this and though this song might well be about a molested kid, it tells of this little boy’s own obsessions, desires of passivity and acquiescences delivered and yearned for. The song is appealing and soothing until somewhere comes a slurry of garbled, loopy chaos, completely atonal and jarring, the listener’s eyes become wide, a grin infests his mouth (recognition or gawking?), and then the calm melody and guitar return. And I loved (and love this song). It portrays the tumultuous (most often incurred by our own doing) battling with the beautiful (desire however bruised and knotted it is). I’m listening to this song driving down a redwood infested windy road, sunset all indigo, we’re talkin’ a deep, dimmed neon blue, and I’m terrified because my desires got me face to some beautiful young man which brought me face to face with myself.

I’ll spare the details of that specific narrative. But the show ended and we funneled out into the alley and back to our cars, shaking our heads, those old demons pushing out our foreheads from inside our skulls. Hmm. Yes. Let us drink more. Drink we did.


Blogger coastofnebraska said...

Having seen Xiu Xiu in earlier incarnations, I would have to say that I desired to drink a lot after their performances. I am glad you touched upon this sentiment. I was too terrified to laugh in the face of Xiu Xiu upon first listen though... I am a deeply troubled soul... Thanks, Ambigutrex.

12:21 AM  

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