Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Xiu Xiu Bristol Fleece - 12th March '12

The first support band, Crash and the Bandicoots, shuffle onto a stage filled with fairy lights and paper lanterns. They're enjoyable and confident, using audio clips to introduce their songs (in much the same way as Fight Like Apes). The clapping, fairy lights and "ooh ahh"-ing looks on paper a bit twee, but that's not the case at all and they're a fun, interesting band to see. Up next are Trumpets Of Death; unlike their predecessors they don't stop between songs, each echoing note melding into the next. It's an impressive show, including some incredible saxophone playing, the only flaw being that they lack the immediacy of the other bands. Of course, the real trouble with supporting a band like tonight's headliners is that they are who we're all really here to see.

There's no talking between tracks tonight (as is usual with Xiu Xiu), but the band all seem perfectly content with the silence. Stewart speaks only twice - thanking the support bands at the start, and then thanking us in an equally hushed tone. His speaking voice is at odds with the raw power of his singing; he dodges between howls on 'This Too Shall Pass Away' (the only track they play from 'Dear God I Hate Myself'), and the beautiful, heart-breaking melody of 'Fabulous Muscles'. Silence falls almost completely for this track. The drummer, Marc Riordan, makes his way to the front of the stage to stand silently next to Stewart, hands clasped with a solemn expression, looking for all the world like someone in mourning. The crowd is unexpectedly small, especially for a band that's travelled so far to get here, but those that have come seem to be dedicated fans. There's a smatter of impolite talking over the start of a few tracks but that soon settles down as the songs develop. The set-list is clever and well thought out, the sublime refrain of 'Suha', "I hate my husband, I hate my children...when will I be going home?" is right at home next to the melodic "la la la"-ing on 'Joey's Song', one of the tracks from the new album 'Always'.

There's definitely something religious about the dedication of Xiu Xiu's listeners, and in the fairly small number of people here, there doesn't seem to be even close to a "type" of fan. If you just can't understand what makes people fall in love with this band, then seeing them live is probably the best way to appreciate the magnetism they undoubtedly have. I've seen Xiu Xiu casually dismissed in reviews on grounds of 'weirdness'. And yes, there can be some surprising and unusual moments in their music, but you soon come to realise there's nothing random about those crashing cymbals, or interjections of noise. It's all been crafted delicately together to form a powerful undercurrent; an unstoppable barrage of melodies that suck you in, wrenching at your gut, and all the while Stewart's lyrics, bizarre and startling at each turn, weave and float on top. They finish tonight's set with the magnificent 'I Love The Valley OH!', probably the closest thing they've got to a "hit single". As Stewart and the crowd roar out the infamous "OH!" of the title, I realize that (and it's completely clich├ęd) there's no easy way to put into words how a band like Xiu Xiu can make you feel. With those infamously unflinching lyrics, agonizingly catchy guitar riffs and drums that thump like a heartbeat, they were never going to be everyone's cup of tea, but that doesn't stop them being the most brilliant, surprising, and unforgettable band of the last ten years.

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