Review – Xiu Xiu @ The Harley

There are times in your life when you go and peer over the proverbial abyss. Sometimes the abyss looks back; sometimes it just plays some music.

The Harley had the pleasure of holding an extravagant gig organised by the owner of the best hats in Sheffield (that be Liam from Children for Breakfast, then– Quinto). The cartel had Urgent Talk, Blood Oranges and Xiu Xiu.

Sadly, due to logistical problems (see: a bout of food poisoning that floored me several days before), the Urgent Talk bit of the gig was mostly missed. Gutted, really, as I wanted to hear ‘Palindromes’ live. Oh, well, back to their free album download, then.

Blood Oranges came around and although not familiar with their stuff, it was enjoyable. It was much better than the time I saw them at Bungalows and Bears. Their mixture of rock pop with spacey atmospheres (gotta respect the microKorg) was more at home at The Harley. The highlight? Set closer ‘Bodies’ really made me look forward for their next outing.

A waiting period that felt endless followed. The DJ played a few tunes to keep the spirits up, but his choice of Grandaddy’s ‘The Crystal Lake‘ made me wonder if the guy just wasn’t waiting for us to top each other and call it a day.

The black curtains opened and there on stage were the pair. Jamie Stewart and Angela Seo, both dressed head to toe in black.

So it began. ‘Black Drum Machine’, an extremely disturbing tale kickstarted the gig, which had several long silences (some of the uncomfortable) between songs, while drum machines were programmed or a few gargles of a magic potion were quaffed.

The set list (which you can peek at the end of this rant) was focused on their new album, the upliftingly title ‘Dear God, I hate myself‘. The new songs aren’t as sombre as the title suggest, but, man, you need to be in a certain mindframe to truly enjoy a Xiu Xiu gig.

And that mindframe is pretty simple: open up and take it in. The sound of a live Xiu Xiu gig is pretty bizarre, but the individual pieces fall perfectly, forming an image both soothing and alarming. ‘I luv the Valley, Oh‘, with its share of lalalas and that scream are the example that comes first.

‘Guantanamo canto’ and ‘Gayle Lynn’ are pretty odd songs on record. Imagine them live. But again, keeping an open mind and taking it in like a sponge really makes you “get” what they are saying. My perception of both songs changed after seeing them live.

During one of the more intense moments, a string broke and it was amazing the speed with which Mr. Jamie Stewart changed it. I would’ve taking ages (and punctured a lung, surely) if I tried to do it as efficiently as he did.

Angela Seo, the current other 50% of the band, is quite a gifted musician, keeping up with Jamie’s manic speed and generally being the one woman orchestra taking care of percussion, keyboards and even a Nintendo DS (??) running through a few guitar effects (a glitcher’s dream, surely?)

Now, somebody in the audience (some girls behind me, to be precise) said during ‘This too shall pass away (For Freddy)’ that Xiu Xiu sounded like “80s dance pop”. Far fetched but, hey, it’s the way I remember the eighties (didn’t have a happy childhood), so the upbeat tempo paired with some truly depressing thoughts really resonated with me.

It came the time to say goodbye and I can’t think of any better way to close it than ‘Boy Soprano‘, a song that deeply touches some heartstrings (long story).

Now, the interaction with the public was minimal (just a quick goodbye before the last song but it’s the way things are sometimes. Both Angela and Jamie were extremely approachable when the gig was over, and a quick chat with Jamie revealed he likes Mexico City. The man’s quite intense on stage, but outside, he’s a bit shy but quite amiable.

Hard to categorize the whole thing as just a gig. It was quite the experience and we’ll leave it at that.


Set list

Black drum machine

Apistat Commander

Grey Death

Dear God, I Hate Myself

Muppet Face

Gayle Lynn

I Luv The Valley OH!

Falkland Rd.

Poe Poe

Guantanamo Canto

Chocolate Makes You Happy

This Too Shall Pass Away (For Freddy)

Boy Soprano

If this concert was a David Bowie song it would be :Sound Oddity

Check out our nifty gallery of that night (now with 100% more watermark!)

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