Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Xiu Xiu and Former Ghosts at Bristol Arnolfini

Freddy Ruppert, main member and creative drive of Former Ghosts, stands slightly to the left of the stage in front of his Mac with Jamie Stewart, core member of Xiu Xiu, on his right. Freddy Ruppert has talked about how he performs music live in a very different way to a conventional 'indie rock band', using a computer and a synthesizer rather than the more traditional set-up.

Before they begin playing, Freddy Ruppert asks the crowd to join him in singing 'Happy Birthday' to a friend of his, obligingly we all sing and once we've finished, with a very slight pause they begin playing. The fairly cheerful atmosphere immediately disappears. Ruppert bangs a floor tom with such aggression it's a wonder he doesn't snap the drumsticks. On record, his vocals are integrated into the synthesized world he creates, but live they rise above the music and add another level to the performance. Stewart teases some phenomenal noises out of his guitar (using a drumstick at one point) and even when his guitar strap comes un-strapped, he kneels to the floor playing on furiously.

Jamie Stewart goes off midway through the set leaving Freddy Ruppert standing alone behind his computer. Between tracks, The Auditorium is silent apart from Ruppert's laboured breaths and the occasional curse; it's a slightly tense atmosphere, but more one of anticipation than awkwardness. (I assumed it was the strain of playing such deeply personal music live, but it later became clear that he was having some major technical difficulties.) As the introduction to 'Us and Now' echoes out, Ruppert leans forward to begin dancing and the music cuts out. Remaining silent with a deep frown on his face he furiously tries to sort things out, which leads to some engaging with the audience. He smiles almost coquettishly and murmurs "Maybe I should stay more still in the future?" and the atmosphere begins to feel a little more relaxed.

The newer tracks (from their incredible latest album 'New Love') in particular 'Taurean Nature' and 'New Orleans', sound brilliant live. The older ones like 'Hello Again' and "Flowers' sound fresher and less claustrophobic than on record. Declaring that Xiu Xiu are up next, looking sweaty and a little drained he begins the last song. Telling tales, as they do, of utter heartbreak, Former Ghosts leave the audience feeling empty, especially without the music, to soften the brutal honesty of Freddy Ruppert's lyrics, which are still raw in our minds.

Xiu Xiu are a little more comfortable with the expectant silence, Angela Seo and Jamie Stewart exchange whispers and some sort of pre-gig clapping game (?) before launching themselves into their music. After the gig I spoke to someone who had not really heard any Xiu Xiu before, who said they felt it was 'a little too death-metal and emo for me'. A surprising statement, sure Xiu Xiu have a guitar and scream a bit, but there is so much depth to their music.

'I Love The Valley OH!' a personal favourite track of mine, seems ten times louder than anything that has come before and Jamie Stewart's screams are torn from his mouth. The pink Nintendo DS on which much of their latest album 'Dear God I Hate Myself' was composed and played, is brought out for some of their more recent songs such as 'Apple For A Brain', and 'Chocolate Makes You Happy' is given an added menace as Stewart hisses out the lyrics. Angela Seo uses a variety of percussion and different whistles, some of which make some really quite interesting noises. Behind them words flicker up on a screen, 'END' in particular is a favourite, as well as scenes from an old vampire film. The mood is slightly sinister and a very different sort of melancholy to Former Ghosts'. 'Boy Soprano' and 'Sad Pony Guerilla Girl, some of their older songs build upon this.

Xiu Xiu perform in the truest sense of the word, they are in control of the emotions of everyone in that room and they are doing what they want with them. As they finish the crowd applauds, tentatively hoping for an encore but they leave us, despite it being a cliche, wanting much more. They've caused controversy and polarise opinions but there is not doubt, at least in my mind, they are a superb band with something to say, saying it in the very best way possible.

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