Xiu (1 of 7)

I think most people do not give Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu enough credit for his sense of humor. During Sunday night’s show at The Chapel, Stewart threw a cover of ZZ Top’s "Sharp Dressed Man" smack into the middle of his set, turning the song’s absurd swagger inwards with typical Xiu Xiu self-reflexivity. Just take a second to look at the Xiu Xiu press photos: Jamie Stewart is a well-dressed man.

The best essay I’ve read about Xiu Xiu came out in 2009, and was written by William Bowers, a Pitchfork contributor at the time, who wrote a column named Puritan Blister. In the piece, Bowers tenderly writes about his own experience falling in love with Xiu Xiu, and how Stewart’s music delivers activism, empathy, pain, and the horrors of abuse all at once.

I understand what is off-putting to some about Xiu Xiu, and have enjoyed (and even home-recorded) spoofs of Stewart's singular delivery and the "difficulty" of the band's song structures. But I love how indulgent, how adolescent, how shrill-on-purpose, how bilious-then-soft, how just fugging herniated their stuff is. When I was a slightly stupider person, I once asked Chris Ott, former Pfork staffer and author of a book on Joy Division, why so many Xiu Xiu songs contained those fussy interruptions and dissonant blasts. He answered curtly, "Because they're about child rape." Lest the subject matter become too sonically palatable, Stewart handicaps his hooks with art-pop gristle.

Certainly, Sunday night was no different. Although Xiu Xiu’s latest release, FORGET, is a bit more accessible than some of their other work, Stewart never stops working the peaks/valleys approach to songwriting and, frankly, setlists. The neckbreak-ing tender acoustic drama of "Fabulous Muscles" sat back-to-back with the manic, almost repulsive energy of "I Luv Abortion." Half the set Stewart was plaintively playing his guitar, the other half he was ripping off a guitar solo and dancing across the stage, wiggling his hips with only half-contained glee.

Xiu (5 of 7)

With over nine albums to choose from, one would be forgiven for assuming Stewart might draw from the obscure, if only to punish listeners the same way his trademark blasts of noise usually do. Instead, Xiu Xiu played a muscular greatest hits set (if you want real pain, head to one of Stewart’s occasional noise shows). The standouts from FORGET all made the cut ("Get Up," "Forget," "Wondering") along with A Promise’s "Sad Pony Girl" and "Stupid in the Dark" from Angel Guts: Red Classroom. No, they didn’t play “I Love The Valley OH” but, honestly, there were too many other gems to worry about that.

For the encore, Stewart came out alone and performed “I Broke Up” from Knife Play with only his electric guitar. It was soft and dark and moving and punctuated with this screaming interlude:

"This, this is the worst vacation ever, I am going to cut open your forehead with a roofing shingle [scream]"

LOL.

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