I saw Xiu Xiu and Zola Jesus at the Bowery Ballroom on Friday night. Well, I actually saw Twin Sister, Zola Jesus, tUnE-YaRdS [sic] and Xiu Xiu, but I was only there for one group. Fortunately, the concert was a delightful surprise. Twin Sister was forgettable. Well, the music was okay but much like every overtly twee opening act I've seen in the last few months - and by "every" I mean every opening act I've seen in the last few months has been overtly twee - they were nothing special. Zola Jesus was wonderful. I have listened to her on record and, much like WOODS, it doesn't compare to the energy and ambience of seeing her live. Her set was an unfortunately short 20 minutes, but she packed a mile's worth of improvised stage acrobatics and the entirety of her glorious and operatic-influenced voice into them. One of the funnier moments of the show happened between two of her tracks:
Zola Jesus: "It's a very important weekend for me. It's my birthday weekend..."
Zola Jesus: "...I'm turning 21."
Audience: SELF-CONSCIOUS SILENCE
tUnE-YaRdS - may I briefly call attention to how much I fucking hate creative casing in band names? - was an odd act: a young woman with two drums, a modified ukulele, a looper and a bassist, blasting out West African and Carribean-influenced indie pop. Think Vampire Weekend wearing their influences on their sleeve (well, moreso, anyway) crossed with Final Fantasy and that's a rough approximation. If anything, her sense of rhythm was dead-on and her scat-like vocalizations, looped over into one another with the drum beats created a genuinely original sound. I located a video of her doing "Gangsta", my favorite number from her live set. The video is a good approximation of what I saw, down to the hand motions:
Now, the topper was Xiu Xiu. If you watched the above video and have ever even heard about Xiu Xiu - from my repeated posts about them, if anything at all - you may rightly assume that a bunch of people split about halfway through their first track. Their stage presence is now minimal: Jamie Stewart on electric guitar (and occasionally Nintendo DS or percussion) and newcomer Angela Seo on synths and a very complex percussion set-up that may resemble a drum kit if you squint hard enough. Jamie's energy on stage is inversely proportional to his incredibly shy persona in between tracks. He becomes a waterfall of sweat, shredding the hell out of his guitar and singing as if attempting to exorcise a demon from the depths of his gut. The tempo and feel of every song was utterly different, some infused with a nervous energy the original track never had - their rendition of "I Luv The Valley OH!" for instance. Below is a video of "Muppet Face" from the show I attended.
...and here is a photo I took of Jamie Stewart playing a Hello Kitty branded Nintendo DS Lite (complete with Hello Kitty charm):
Xiu Xiu is coming out with a new album at the end of February (I've already bought my tickets for their New York show in April) and a number of tracks were leaked to YouTube. I can't get enough of this one:
They are the only band I can think of since, perhaps, Joy Division who can pull off an album, track and chorus named “Dear God, I Hate Myself,” and come off as deranged rather than self-piteous. Well, Ian Curtis came off as if channeling Thánatos through his wiry frame. Jamie Stewart, on the other hand, was driven mad by the unknown and unnameable gods of Lovecraft. "Dear God, I Hate Myself" isn't a complaint or a plea for sanctity -- it is an just and vitriolic accusation meant to pierce the heart of the creator for allowing a life such as his to exist. This intense (overbearing, even) theatricality is the heart of Xiu Xiu and my reason for enjoying them as much as I do. There's no way to express these universal emotions without diving into an ocean of hyperbole thicker and more viscerally disturbing than any river running through a Chinese factory. An unflattering review in the SF Chronicle defined Jamie's voice as having...
...perfected the sound of being one misheard remark away from a histrionic breakdown. His choruses are such clingy pleas that they trigger physical discomfort if you're not a fan.
Image co. Xiu Xiu's MySpace
Music reviewer Jennifer Maerz, I have just watched the point whiz by you at Mach 3. I don't think there is a single Xiu Xiu fan alive who isn't physically uncomfortable listening to the band. In the words of Dr. Strangelove, that is the whole idea of this machine. Even the genuinely sweet-sounding songs like “Hello From Eau Claire” contain an unnatural lyrical undercurrent meant for the listeners to awkwardly brush their fingers through their hair in order to have an excuse to avert their ear-gaze from the lyrics.
In related news, Former Ghosts (a side project involving Jamie Stewart, which I have written about here) have finally come out with an official music video. There's a bit of pukin' at the end, if you're sensitive to it:
Last week’s post on Paul Robertson started as a wholly different animal: I wanted to explore music videos that resemble 8-/16-bit era video games. Consider this post a sort of tangential addendum.
We’ll start off with Syrano’s Ficelle. Syrano’s entire fanbase seems to lay in France; I’m not even sure how to legally obtain one of his albums in the United States (although, I have to admit, I have not looked very hard.) His instrumentation draws upon the during-and-post-Edith-Piaf chanson tradition melding it with simplistic electronica and hip-hop. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the lyrics are, and Google seems to be of no help right now. Fortunately, a few years ago, I asked a French (Canadian) friend of mine what exactly was going on in the song and I was told the plot matches the music video: a girl overcoming an eating disorder. The video’s style is classic platformer – the way each level ends is a direct reference to Super Mario Bros. 3. What really delighted me was a non-traditional addition that isn’t immediately noticeable, but serves to reinforce the content: note the degradation of the character model as she falls deeper and deeper into the disorder. We could have only wished that such attention to character-based atmospheric detail (not related to power-ups) was an industry standard in those days.
The other video I wanted to show off is Xiu Xiu’s Boy Soprano. Xiu Xiu are a …difficult… band to get one’s head around and even more difficult to enjoy. The vocalist does not make an attempt to appeal to General Audiences (whether he attempts to actively repel them is a different story.) The emotion he puts into singing is raw enough to rip your own nerves to match his. I could make (and probably will – STAY TUNED) an entire post on them, but I’ve found the best way to explain the music itself is with a formula:
Step One: Spend most of your life living a life of moderate means in New York City.
Step Two: Move to suburban Los Angele, car-less and broke.
Step Three: Despair at the utter, utter emptiness of all within and without.
Step Four: Walk into your town’s biggest cultural center (the indoor mall) through the parking lot and blast Xiu Xiu on your portable media player. Suddenly, every nails-on-chalkboard cringe you get from the music makes sense.
Sorry, got off track for a second. The video hits the same nerves as the music: pointless violence and Dadaist dialogue abound. The visual style is an interesting merger. There’s a definite deliberate choppiness to it that stems from lazy graphic piggybacking on Mortal Kombat’s successful use of digitized photos instead of drawn sprites. On the other hand, it also resembles the attempts to add reality to the platform genre through realistic scaling and movement that started with Prince of Persia and continued with games like Flashback and Out of this World/Another World. Halfway through, the game turns into a horizontal shooter that shows some definitely love (or at, at least, a good amount of research) for the genre.
(Controller image thanks to reintji)