By Gene Wagendorf III
Little under an hour before the somber anniversary of Ian Curtis's death in 1980, Xiu Xiu was onstage at Lincoln Hall zipping through a bright and inspired cover of his last song, "Ceremony." Jamie Stewart's guitar glistened and scrunched over the song's pitter-patter percussion, lending it an appropriate brightness and fragility. While the muscle of Peter Hook's bass was missing, Stewart's more operatic approach to the vocals allowed Xiu Xiu's version to evoke the same sense of captivating desperation. That balance between frenetic emotion and moments of glammy, quirky bombast was firing on all cylinders throughout the entire set. "Beauty Towne," from the recently released album Always, moved forward with a deep, hip-swaying groove over which Angela Seo sprinkled synthetic ripples and electronic blurping. The disconnect between the emotions the instruments conjured and Stewart's trademark this-is-my-last-song delivery forged a kind of sunny gloom pop, or what I imagine MGMT would sound like if they were very, very sad.
Xiu Xiu delivered their music with an astounding sense of exigency the entire night, only occasionally interrupted by moments of playfulness. On "Smear The Queen" the band used solarized guitar sounds and steady pacing to whip up a wall of dramatic sound, which was abruptly disassembled by a slinky Casio line. A few seconds of silence lingered before rubbery whomping cued a return to the beat, the chugging and the forlorn vocals. Stewart calmed things down a bit on "Sad Pony Guerilla Girl," stripping the songwriting down to a subdued conversation between instruments. It's not an uncommon criticism of sonically wackier music that experimental eccentricities and electronic tomfoolery are used as a crutch to help cover a lack of solid songwriting. I had no such reservations about Xiu Xiu going in to this show, and they did nothing to shake that confidence. "Guerilla Girl" spent most of it's time as an idyllic back and forth between shimmering guitar, melodic twinkles and Stewart's own warbling voice. When the strange clicks and hot zippers popped in they did so seamlessly, playing their part and moving on.
The band closed their performance strongly, going with a more traditional alternative rock approach on "I Love The Valley OH." The tune's swooning guitars and factory beat were equally booming, and dipped in perfect synch with Stewart's manic lyrical crescendos. Paying one last bit of respect to their predecessors during the show's encore, Xiu Xiu closed with a convulsing cover of Suicide's "Frankie Teardrop." The singer dropped the smooth bends from his delivery in favor forcing yips and howls over the song's gamelan percussion and cardiac bass. "Teardrop" succeeded as both a nod to the band's influences as well as an unhinged display of their their own creativity. The night's signature image was that of Jaime Stewart defiantly tossing the mic in the air. He had disappeared before it finally plopped on the ground, the last note necessary and the last note given.