Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Xiu Xiu Larsen, The Croft Bristol - 25th June '12

If you're reading this between 8-9pm GMT on Thursday 28th June then go HERE to listen to my radio show, where I'll be talking more about the gig and playing music from EMA, Xiu Xiu, Gunning For Tamar, Alt-J and more (as well as the new WHY? track).

The Croft is filled with the sounds of heavy metal guitars and screaming. This isn’t because Xiu Xiu Larsen have had a drastic change of sound, there’s also some kind of heavy metal evening going on in the next room tonight. Thanks to The Croft’s design, this is fairly easy to ignore, although it can be a little surprising later when XXL are keeping the audience enraptured, things fall silent, and there’s some thrashing going on in the background.

In the ‘main’ room we find Anta setting up in front of the stage – the rather large gong next to the drum kit attracting some attention. Without microphones as they are, there’s no in-between song chit chat (or singing), they don’t even pause at any point during the set. It’s a constant influx of noise, which can be a little overwhelming (and leaves you feeling a little dazed afterwards). But there are some catchy melodies and things never become self-indulgent. You might be fooled into thinking that there was no set structure to their set, but the clever fluctuating changes in rhythm and texture make it clear that everything is well calculated. Their set up in front of the stage allows the space to feel a little fuller but they soon pack away their (very impressive) array of amps, clearing the way for XXL. The latter are surrounded by a barrier of pedals, guitars, drum kit and unusual instruments - there’s even a theremin (although that doesn’t get much use) as well as several keyboards and a variety of small percussion.

XXL’s set begins gradually, building a blend of sound that seems almost without melody, until the drums lead with a beat and a much more defined shape emerges.  The audience is surprisingly small, at its peak there are perhaps no more than 30 people, which has the strange effect of making this feel like something secret. They all seem utterly absorbed in the performance, and there’s a small ripple of excitement when the opening notes of ‘Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw’ echo out. Invariably, Jamie Stewart (the Xiu Xiu part of Xiu Xiu Larsen) is drawing out a heart wrenching guitar melody, keenly emotive and almost unbearable in its beauty. It rises above the rest of the sound, pulling the reverberating chords and melodies around it into a web of noise that demands your attention until it’s the only thing you can think of.

Several of the tracks descend into the cacophony of fuzz and noise that Stewart’s band Xiu Xiu sometimes make use of. We’ve described before here at LBW how effective and affecting that can be, and whilst there is arguably a less calculated effect here, it somehow wraps itself inside your ears until the stabs of noise feel comfortable and necessary. It’s perhaps important to assert that this is certainly not a Xiu Xiu concert, but it also seems a touch illogical to consider tonight’s performance out of the context of Xiu Xiu.

Both bands are capable of evoking very strong feelings in the audience, often unexpectedly, and both feature that wonderful guitar - but there’s something rawer and less predictable, less safe, in XXL’s playing tonight. At times this can make it a harder listen and less rewarding. If you’re not in the right frame of mind then the bursts of noise and fuzz could feel alienating, but if you give them your full attention then it’s hypnotic, aggressively emotive and a powerful thing to watch.

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