Manchester Ruby Lounge
It's impossible not to feel like some kind of voyeur, watching Jamie Stewart exorcise pain and attack the darkest of thoughts head on. Just like a pervert in a peep show, you can't help but take an immense pleasure from watching this strangest of acts on stage.
Jamie Stewart came to the stage at The Ruby Lounge, Manchester, quiet and ostensibly timid. Following his pre-show routine of gargling two mugs of what I'm guessing is herbal tea, the show began. Pulling no punches from the start, the first two tracks were slow, dark and brooding, giving the crowd a sense of foreboding (in the positive way only Xiu Xiu can manage) about what was to follow.
This is the first time I've seen Xiu Xiu as a four piece. Whilst as a two I've loved every moment of their show, the addition of a live drummer (with metronomic accuracy perfect for Xiu Xiu's post-punk infused sounds), a live bassist and keyboardist filled out the Xiu Xiu sound in a different and positive way.
Whilst Jamie Stewart's fierce performance remained the centre piece of the show, the sound achieved by Xiu Xiu as a four piece was loud, noisy, and utterly punk, yet totally controlled and deliberate. Each guitar tone and keyboard noise sounded other worldly, but had a pop quality that grabbed the audience. As if proof of this was even needed, the silence of the crowd during the quieter numbers ”â including my favourite Xiu Xiu song Sad Pony Guerilla GirlÃÂ ”â was sign they were following every sonic and physical movement of the band with studious accuracy. Even the dancier songs from the new record, including Hi and Joey's Song, were met with the same dark enjoyment as the more time tested tunes such as Dear God, I Hate Myself.
Completing what seemed like an ideal arc of songs that evening, Xiu Xiu finished with I Luv the Valley, OH!, perhaps the most openly pop and anthemic song they have written, the crowd erupted in elation, chanting for an encore that never came ”â not that it was needed.
The only time Jamie spoke was early on in the set to confess he felt embarrassed talking on stage, and to request permission for a cover of Joy Division/New Order's Ceremony. Xiu Xiu's version of the track live, is removed from the Stylophone based take on the Chapel of the Chimes EP, keeping the same sense of raw nerves in the original, but filling the space with bigger sounds, including a heavy take on the almost-pop guitar riff. The huge cheer from the crowd signalled their approval.
As our lass said when I came back enthusing about the show, “why do I like Xiu Xiu? It's music as you want to make it yourself.”Â I couldn't agree more. Xiu Xiu's shows school attendees in how to play openly and with a raw power that even during the quiet numbers felt like the most honest and intense ”Ëpunk' I have seen in a long time.