By Cole Johnson
Anyone who came to the ‘Sco on February 7th for the sole purpose of moshing will tell you that Xiu Xiu’s performance was not meant to cater to the audience. Within the first few songs, most unsuspecting listeners realized that this concert was not the kind of event to attend plastered, and filed out, leaving only fans and the few whose interest had been piqued.
Truth be told, most avid listeners were probably caught a bit off guard to find out that Jamie Stewart would be performing alone, seated on a chair surrounded by a network of guitar pedals and one small pad. As the primary vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist of the group, Jamie undoubtedly comprises the majority of the band’s vision and character, but the absence of any other instruments or a more complex, layered production to back up his ideas raised some skepticism among the audience.
That skepticism was met with pleasant surprise. The two-hour concert was taut with shocking, powerful performances, with no talking breaks (except calling out an obnoxious bartender jangling his keys near the end of the performance). Despite performing solo, Stewart delivered many of Xiu Xiu’s trademark sounds, all coated with his trembling vocals. His limited resources made for a more raw and unique show. A great example was “Petite” from 2017’s Forget. Instead of the weeping cellos and fragile guitar chords on the original cut, the song was supported by more apprehensive, distorted guitar notes, taking the track in an alarmingly tense and exciting direction that the studio version never captured.
“Amargi ve Moo” from Girl with Basket of Fruit featured Stewart’s violent blubbering from the original cut, though without mastering, the sound was far more piercing and terrifying. Stewart used his guitar to take several songs in the direction of experimental noise, mounting tsunamis of incoherent shredding in smaller bursts, during which the audience threw themselves into one another. It was fascinating to witness the brevity of these uproars, and how immediately they transitioned back to captivated silence after an intense auditory climax.
Stewart held nothing back. His whispers might be followed at any moment by shrieks of despair, creating a haunting paranoia around his icy vocals. He kept his eyes shut nearly the entire performance, only flashing the whites at particularly demanding moments where they rolled back into his head. Little attention was paid to the crowd, demonstrating his intentions of performing only for himself. His overall effort and composure were nothing short of outstanding.
Though Xiu Xiu’s discography contains plenty of accessible material, what makes the group stand out isn’t their generic appeal to wasted college students, but their bold, abstract musical statements that challenge the ears of the listener. There may have been an air of disappointment among fans who expected to hear the full group, but if you attended that night expecting to see a Xiu Xiu concert, that was exactly what you got.