Joining Xiu Xiu for his tour was a surprising treat called Tune-yards. Consisting of multi-instrumentalist Merrill Garbus, with some help from a bassist, Tune-yards exhibited some of the most impressive live looping and song creation that I've ever seen. Garbus' voice alone was an incredible talent. Using several different styles, often in the same song, she conquered the range of throaty yells, fluttering falsettos, powerful belts, even a unique type of yodeling. On top of vocal duties Garbus also operated the looping device, creating rhythms and voice harmonies right before your eyes and triggering them during the songs. She situated herself between a floor tom and a snare, using the rims and mic stands percussively in developing beats. When she wasn't banging the tom and snare she was playing what appeared to be an electric ukulele.
In my excitement I did purchase Tune-yards' CD, but unfortunately the album does not do justice to what I had witnessed. While it works as a nice reminder of their performance, it lacks the entrancing grip that their live demonstration provides. The album, titled Bird-brains, is a pleasant and intimate listen but with a lo-fi quality that dampens the expectations I pulled from the show. The sound in Lincoln Hall was fantastic, and all aspects of the songs shined. While there are a few songs on the CD that I can still enjoy(such as Sunlight and Hatari) and many that are downright relaxing, this act is best in the flesh.
Xiu Xiu took the stage quietly and began with a gentle opener. Employing his trademark near-tremble sing, Jamie Stewart imparted a somber song: “My father was the second man to be inside you...” His vocals are passionate, confession-like utterings, teetering with intensity and often breaking into emotional outbursts. Beside Stewart's voice and guitar was Angela Seo, who would tinker with the many backing electronic devices and controls. In contrast to the simplicity of Tune-yards' setup, Xiu Xiu surrounded themselves with tall cymbal stands and various percussion, along with a large table cluttered with visible wires and knobs. The toys are not superfluous either, this being especially clear when your ears are under assault from the noise avalanches that occur within half of Xiu Xiu's repertoire. Both members have a go at the equipment, operating the many dials and gizmos laid about like surgical utensils.
The music of Xiu Xiu is a difficult thing to describe. Albums will usually run the range of overloaded sound experimentation to delicate acoustic numbers. Lyrics, when discernible, primarily will wield a sort of depressing if not disturbing weight. Some of the audience will laugh at certain lines of dark humor, while others may get turned off or even genuinely concerned with how acutely Jamie Stewart delivers his themes. If they are funny it's because they are so piercingly sharp that if you weren't laughing you'd be crying. One thing I did not anticipate at a Xiu Xiu show was dancing, but this night the set was very beat heavy. Don't let that mislead you into thinking it was upbeat and bright, as it could hardly be considered as such with lyrics like “Dear god I hate myself, dear god I hate myself...”
I highly recommend seeing this show if you get the chance. Xiu Xiu and Tune-yards possess fine performance abilities, and despite having little similarities in sound their coupling provided for quite the enjoyable evening. Remaining dates on this tour can be found on Xiu Xiu's website:
You can also check out Tune-yards' website here: