I had read that Jamie Stewart, the creative force behind Xiu Xiu had recently posted on his website a request to fans to give him a reason to keep on living. Intense. And as a friend darkly responded when I shared that snippet – “should be a fun show then”.
Earlier this year Jamie had been touring as Xiu Xiu with a ‘traditional band set up’ – even with an actual real drummer – and then, I’m not sure what happened but he did some shows totally solo. But tonight was his first show accompanied only by percussionist Shayna Dunkelman who is joining Jamie for the rest of his tour. Shayna is very accomplished in her own right, having played with the likes of John Zorn and members of Matmos, as well as being a member of the the band The Adorables. She added grace and a sense of calm to the stage as a counterpoint to the incredible tension of Jamie, who sat throughout the performance practically hugging his instruments like comforting blankets.
The word that seemingly seemed to be uttered the most, post, and in some cases during, this performance by assembled Kings Arms audience was “intense” – the scene truly set when Jamie started the third song into the set looking even more fluxed than normal; stopping and confessing that perhaps jet-lag had taken the better of him and that couldn’t remember the first line of the song. The ever-friendly an supportive audience were much quicker to forgive him than he seemed to be of himself; he paused – visible wracking his mind to recall – momentarily thinking he had, but then, not.
Xiu Xiu presented a stripped back arrangement of songs from his latest album, for example Always – the single “Hi” was slower paced and stripped of it’s rave-like instrumentation – presenting a much starker and possibly darker live version. There came a time within the set that I had to tear myself away from the front of the room; to seek some solace or relief towards the back on the venue where others were also lurking, some with their eyes closed; perhaps in an attempt to minimize the sensory sensations or maybe to intensify them. It was, though, a perfectly timed set – just as it was getting “too intense” it drew to a graceful close. Jamie and Shayla returned onstage for a single song encore – Jamie explaining that they “never do encores” but because of the third song mistake they would for us.
Xiu Xiu proved to be as opposite to ‘easy listening’ as it possibly could and I’m still thinking about the show days later.
- review by Andrew Tidball