Monday, April 23, 2007

Look at me
Nothing bad is ever going
to happen to you again
Although you're a solid pile of hate
You're still pretty like a cake
Pulling out a bat at the Kill Me Court
Slaps me that I can't handle you
But yes, no, yes, no, yes,
Tell me how to live!

('Boy Soprano' at Common Grounds in Gainesville, Florida 10.5.2006. Haha, check the Bauhaus logo on Jamie's guitar.)

Okay, as promised, a full report on the beyond incredible Xiu Xiu show at Bottom of the Hill on 4.22.2007. BTW, didn’t get a chance to hit the second show tonight, but that’s okay. Last night was magnificent.

And alright, a little disclaimer for my review: mere words seem inadequate and affected when the show was anything but; however, I’m here to try to make it work!

First though, a quick rundown of our glorious evening leading up to the show. Mentioning this because Trevor planned our pre-show festivities, and he made it one of the most PERFECT evenings I’ve had in a long while. He's the best!

Trevor and I found parking at 6 o’clock at Jones and Geary. Anyone here in the Bay knows that itself is pretty unbelievable. We were two wee blocks from our watering hole of choice to start this evening, Bourbon and Branch.

If you have not been to Bourbon and Branch, you must go. Modeled after a Prohibition speakeasy and housed in a nondescript corner space with an unmarked door and a sign outside advertising “The Anti-Saloon League,” reservations, a password, and decorum are required. I thought it might be a bit pretentious, but I was so wrong. Classy and low-key, B&B gets big points for the low-lighting, linen cocktail napkins, red flocked velvet walls, ability to speak in a soft voice and still be heard, cordial and professional service, and the completely black bathroom with gothic trappings and cloth towels. And the drinks were sublime. I had the Pomegranate Ginger, with lime and Belvedere vodka. Each note of the drink came through crystal, with a zingy ginger finish. My honey had “The Revolver” – Bulliett Bourbon, Tia Maria, and orange bitters. Too sweet for him, he said, but still well-crafted.

After walking around looking for a decent and reasonable place to eat, we ended up at the counter in Bang San Thai for a grand feast of pumpkin and beef curry and Pad Gra Pow. Our bellies filled with scrumptiousity after drinks, we were off to Xiu Xiu.

Yay, parked right in front! The place was packed with greasy kids in skinny jeans, and Jamie Stewart groupies, which was to be expected. But there were also a lot of us over-30s, which was a nice surprise. Also nice was a very attentive, pleasant staff, and seeing our friend from college who we hadn’t seen for 5 or 6 years.

We missed almost all of Katie Eastburn’s set, so no commentary there. But we caught all of Montreal’s Sunset Rubdown. Led by the amazing Spencer Krug on keyboard, their music was full of angsty Smiths-like lyrics and intensity, but with a juxtaposition of jarring guitar and noise, classic piano, and quiet little flourishes like the use of a vibrating and beeping pager (or stopwatch?) on a hi-hat. Good enough to buy the CD.

So, then, Xiu Xiu. They took an immense amount of time to hook up their equipment and soundcheck each piece until it was perfect. Trevor commented facetiously that this could be part of the performance and that we might never know – and they did launch straight into the set without much of a pause after completion. But their music lends itself to complex soundscapes, so there must be meticulous precision involved. It was appreciated.

You ever wonder what it would be like to watch a living breathing blood pumping animal be turned inside-out? Or, more plainly (and less gross), have you ever looked inside your own body when you’ve cut yourself – blood, adipose tissue, meat, bone? The horror and the pain, but the fascination, the thrall, and the beauty too, of what makes us alive? That is Jamie Stewart onstage.

Not to be dramatic, but I’ve heard stories about him. Brilliant, haunted, manic, intense, perfectionist -- but also silly, friendly, and a nice guy. I think it’s probably all true. Watching him perform, it’s like watching a private moment of realization, suffering, or devastation, unfolding like the audience isn’t even there. Both Trevor and I thought, “Ian Curtis” (I can’t believe I said it!) only more heat, less cold.

He’d been having problems with his guitar, and he threw it down and busted its neck after an earth-shattering ‘Boy Soprano’ where I thought he’d have a fit or explode from the effort of creating a near cacophony of violent longing from his usually breathy voice.

Because Xiu Xiu’s music is a symphonic barrage, I was really intrigued to see how they translated that intensity live. That private anguish in all its rawness inside your head I talked about earlier? That seemingly perfectionist sound that at the same time lends itself to improvisation? Now add myriad tiny single tones and notes -- the most singular, small, normally inaudible bit of bell jangle or brush of the drumstick on skins -- transformed into the most complex of sound webs. That is how they did it. Both Caralee McElroy on flute (wow that’s flute in Boy Soprano!), accordion, and samples, and Ches Smith on percussion seemed to play like they were tracking numerous forking paths along a wall of scenic sound.

I was on the far side of the stage away from Caralee, so I didn’t get to watch her too much. But I will never forget Ches Smith’s drumming. Watching him play made me wish I’d taken up drums instead of bass. Like a drumming savant, that man. Completely one with the music, though maybe I’m placing too much on him, and he was thinking about biscuits and gravy or his cat while he was drumming, but damn that shit was complex yet seemingly unstructured and flexible. Easily one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen live.

You must go see this band live if you get the opportunity. Exhilarating and visceral and worth the ticket price just to watch Ches Smith hit the skins. Ches Smith, Trevor and I both want to have your babies.

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