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September 1, 2005 – North Star Bar – Philadelphia, PA
by Brian Line
Xiu Xiu take the stage in Philadelphia with a wall of amps and an array of microphones, keyboards, guitars, a mandolin, cymbals, mini-gongs, an autoharp, a pump organ, a snare drum, a drum machine, and a representative of the endlessly useful musical instrument: the dildo. In the midst of these music making devices stand Caralee McElroy and Jamie Stewart—key member of the group and principle songwriter, respectively. The extreme individual expression found in Xiu Xiu’s albums is translated to stage primarily by the drum machine—which pumps out some of the important electronic elements of Xiu Xiu’s songs as well as the beats, Stewart’s vocals and guitar work, and Caralee’s use of instruments ranging from her usual keyboards and organ to gongs and a wicked cymbal-dildo combo.
Touring in support of their most recent LP La Foret, the set predictably is dominated by this new material. In fact, the first words out of Stewart’s mouth after duly thanking the opening acts are ‘shut up, shut up,’ the quietly imposing lines from “ALE”—one of the standouts of the new LP. After this very quiet but intense opener, Xiu Xiu rush into what may be one of their most rollicking and danceable sets. Immediately following “ALE” is “Brian the Vampire” from last year’s critical favorite Fabulous Muscles, exploding the show from hushed intensity to violent post-punk jitters. Jamie Stewart’s live performance only added weight to the songs’ already mighty emotional heft, especially during the discordant pieces like the Bush-bashing “Saturn.” The supreme highlights of the evening were the more danceable tracks where Stewart’s pop sensibility and his unique vision become cohesive: “Pox” and “Bog People” from La Foret, “Poe Poe” from 2002’s Knife Play, and finally “Apistat Commander” from 2003’s A Promise, which featured a new drum break heightening the intensity of the song instead of lulling the audience into a false security with the calmer break found on the album version of the song. After the twelfth and final song of their set—“Sad Guerilla Pony Girl” on mandolin—Xiu Xiu was forced to call it a night due to a curfew which thwarted the crowd’s pleas for an encore.
Verdict: Xiu Xiu live provides an accurate and slightly expansive version of their recorded sound. The emotional force behind the songs only becomes more palatable because the audience can see the sincerity in Jamie Stewart’s performance of these songs, making the live setting the best way to experience Xiu Xiu if you desire to experience them at all.
ALE: La Foret
Brian the Vampire: Fabulous Muscles
Bog People: La Foret
Poe Poe: Knife Play
Saturn: La Foret
Muppet Face: La Foret
Clowne Towne: Fabulous Muscles
Mousey Toy: La Foret
Pox: La Foret
Yellow Raspberry: La Foret
Apistat Commander: A Promise
Sad Guerilla Pony Girl: A Promise