Wednesday, August 27, 2008

xiu xiu @ the launchpad

Maybe I'm a traditionalist. Maybe my mind and ears are inefficiently afflicted with some aggressive cancerous growth about the nerves; the smooth calcification of their receptors so lovingly nourished by years of listening to melodious rock with pure form and time. Or maybe my childhood, despite numerous revelations and inconveniences, was just too comfortable. Despite the ambiguity of my reasoning, as I stood outside the Launchpad in Albuquerque, New Mexico amidst throngs of vibrating Xiu Xiu fans (all right, so at that time there were about four people – it's only a number, right?), I was more or less anticipating the pseudo-masochistic indulgence of attending a Xiu Xiu show rather than the set itself.

Well, at least I'm honest.

The opening acts (a two-piece with teenagers on drums and keyboards followed by the ostensibly mind-bent Carla Bozulich) were paradoxically garish and minimalist. They set a vaguely discomforting and paranoid tone – one analogous to, perhaps, falling from a dinghy into the Chesapeake Bay and not being able to change your underwear for a few hours – which proceeded to permeate the evening's fraying threads. I will never forget the sheer terror experienced while clinging helplessly to my friend's shoulder while the latter performer deemed it wholly necessary for effect to dissociate completely ("There's only one word – one word! - and that's LOVE!") as she blindly stumbled into and onto her audience. I will be eighty-two years old, my rocking chair creaking beneath diabetic girth and the effects of decades of post-artistic solitary inebriation, and I'll simply say, "hey, remember that one show?" which will incite rows of solemn recognition among my geriatric peers, although only one will truly understand. If the Alzheimer's doesn't get to him first.

That said, when Xiu Xiu took the stage, no additional preparation or emotional steelwork was required. We had already fallen down the rabbit hole1, so to speak, and the surreal atmosphere had not yet relinquished its most desperate grip. In this respect, Xiu Xiu did not disappoint.

Stewart, whose exquisitely mercurial vocal lines are frighteningly comparable to those of the theoretical bastard lovechild of Scott Walker and Sufjan Stevens, in no way allowed the harmonic dissonance of his accompaniment to transform his yearning croons into a vacant component to a destabilised frame. Within the set (which derived fewer works from Women as Lovers [2008, Kill Rock Stars] than I would have expected in a tour still half-heartedly embracing the coat-tails of the album's release), the lyrics were never layered in establishment – another deviance from canorous conventionalism – rather, they acted as the single, precariously binding string which prevented the whole thing from dissolving into ever-so-willing, synergistic chaos. So radical, destroyed for nothing / and I don't care, I don't care anymore, Stewart sings, but you don't have to read between the lines to determine that it's no more than a dissent in denial, one which propitiates the bruises of some abstractly-rendered scene from his past. My theory is that if he cared any more, there would be no structure to Xiu Xiu's music whatsoever.

The resultant cacophony is an ethereal grating of miscellaneous percussion and screaming guitar (which can occasionally be placated into merely whining). If you've never heard a Xiu Xiu song in your life, going to a show might not be the best introduction. I, of course, only partially heeded my own warnings, and found out very quickly that if something sounds atonal and a little scary on mid-range car speakers, it will be absolutely terrifying when you hear it live and the raw decibels are independently slapping you across the face.

Whether or not this particular show was nothing more than another over-hyped descent into abstruse allegory or a bona-fide induction into accepting an existence where my most strange dreams and nightmares regularly phase into tangible matter remains to be seen. One thing is clear, however: It was sufficiently weird, and I may not recover. And no, I haven't decided if that's altogether a bad thing.

1 As so eloquently stated by C.V., to which I, reeling, replied: "It mustn't have been a very long trip, because I didn't feel a thing."

(photo xiu xiu: pupkin)

mp3: "I do what I want, when I want" by Xiu Xiu
mp3: "F.T.W." by Xiu Xiu

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