Review and photos – Xiu Xiu at the Biltmore Cabaret, May 28 2012
– review by Ria Nevada/photos by Krista Jahnke
Two tall glasses of some murky lemon solution stood on the floor next to the feet of Xiu Xiu‘s Jamie Stewart. Throughout the evening, the mastermind of the experimental rock group gargled contents of one glass then would take a minuscule sip from the other before either gulping the solution or spitting it out onto the Biltmore’s stage. This ritual might just be the secret behind Stewart’s unique voice, allowing him to alternate between restrained whispers to skin-crawling screams over the band’s eerie compositions.
Currently touring North America in support of their latest effort, Always, Xiu Xiu’s line-up features Stewart on vocals and guitars alongside Angela Seo. Providing jarring synth riffs (often played with her palms), snare drum lines and deafening cymbal crashes, stone-faced Seo was an intimidating force to behold. The only time she broke a smile was when some bizarre proclamations emerged from the loopy art-school crowd. A few gentlemen confessed “I want to have your abortion!” to which another replied “This is really strange heckling”.
The night’s strange mood did not end with the heckling. Stewart and Seo’s mix of laser sound effects, harmonic guitar riffs, moaning and panting created one brain-rattling soundscape. Tracks like “Hi” from the latest record and “Friend or Foe” stood out as avant-garde dance punk numbers; in contrast, the solemn finger-picked guitars on “Sad Pony Guerilla Girl” highlighted Stewart’s simultaneously provocative and ambiguous lyrics. With eyes squinted and sweat pouring down his face, he sang “We do it in the back of my litte car. Pull up my pants and fix my bra go on home to your kids”.
But the band saved their most jolting number for the encore – a cover of Suicide’s industrial “Frankie Teardrop”. Stewart screeched “Frankie killed his kid” repetitively whilst strangling himself with the microphone cord, performing jump kicks and crawling on all fours for the unforgettable moment.
Opener Yamantaka//Sonic Titan had a few striking moments of their own. Appearing in white face paint with variations of animal, tribal and horror designs, the group served up a compelling fusion of various genres. Gothic-kraut converged with elements of classical Asian scales, served up with arhythmic drums and foreboding synth melodies. As a nod to some of the band’s performance art backgrounds and Asian heritage, their set featured fan dances, Buddhist hand positions, and meditative chanting.
Without a doubt, Xiu Xiu and Yamantaka Sonic//Titan make for an incredibly unusual and captivating double bill.
More Xiu Xiu at the Biltmore Cabaret photos: