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Music

Xiu Xiu @ Lambi, 4/11

Posted by Susan / April 12, 2007

20070411_XiuXiu2.jpg The girl beside me in the crowd was wearing a chain link belt in what I can only assume was an ironic way.

"Wow, it's like, old school emo," she commented loudly of opening band The Luyas. Unwise fashion choices aside, she had a point. Did I miss the memo a few years back, informing everyone in the Montreal music scene that it's a prerequisite for chick singers to wear old prom dresses and sing in irritating baby voices?

It's not that they were terrible; despite unfortunate lyrics like "Forgive me my trespasses on the grounds of life," they had a nice, ambient sound at times. But otherwise it was pretty run of the mill Blue Skies Turn Black opening band fare.

Luckily it's nowhere near as easy to be on the fence about headliners Xiu Xiu; you either love this band or you plug your ears granny-style and complain about the racket. I chose the former.

20070411_XiuXiu.jpgXiu Xiu (pronounced "shoo-shoo", not "zoo-zoo" or "jyu-jyu") is intelligent music. Many of their songs sounded like...well, imagine that synth-filled, 80's powerpop song you knew in high school - you can't remember its name but you'd know it if you saw it - had a bit of a nervous breakdown and nobody heard from it for a while because it was off in therapy writing stream of consciousness poetry, but then started reading good poetry and lost it again, but found an odd sense of balance after meeting an accordion player in a Parisian dive and taking her on a road trip across California, but then they fought the whole time and she took off, but the song came out the other end of all of this crap with a real knack for having a voice, actually sort of the type of person you wish you'd known better. That's vaguely what Xiu Xiu is like.

In fact, I enjoyed their set so much that it almost made me forget I was at Lambi, a stinky, sweaty place with a dingy atmosphere and practically no sightlines unless you're one of those tall, reedy punk boys. And speaking of which, if you are one of those boys, would you please stop shoving in front of us diminutive types at venues where the stage is only about a foot high? You could see just as well from across the street, for cryin' out loud.

It's rare at shows like this to be able to hear the singer's lyrics behind all the feedback and eardrum-abusing cymbals; even rarer to actually want to understand those lyrics. But the Xiu Xiu show had both, and a good thing the mic was turned up, too. Frontman Jamie Stewart's voice is beautiful without being frail, disturbing without being whiny. It is perfectly accompanied by the guitar, the luscious, melancholy harmonium, and creaky, syncopated percussion that in its best moments could have been made by the natural settlings and foundation shifts of a haunted mansion. The lyrics themselves were piercing, occasionally nervous laughter-inducing, and depressing - but in a rich, good, Anne Sexton type of way that makes you want to bathe in the sadness, and that communicates big things starkly and all at once. But for all that, the words are not overpowering. Everything about the music blends together, trading off emphasis rather than using its strongest parts as a crutch. Xiu Xiu ultimately comes together wonderfully in a balanced, unbalanced whole.

All this good stuff, and not a retro prom dress in sight. They must not be from around here.

Discussion

7 Comments

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