The Bowery Ballroom, where I saw Xiu Xiu on Friday, is the perfect size for the X. X. experience — it’s small enough to provide a feeling of intimacy well suited to the band’s confessional vibe, but at the same time it’s big enough that the fan fervour felt like a Shea Stadium-level devotional experience.
On stage, Jamie Stewart mostly ditches the noise histrionics that periodically flare up on his records, and totally indulges his fixation on New Order; he even uses the same Gibson SG as Bernard Sumner. Almost every song was rendered as a banger — Knife Play’s contemplative “Suha” got sped up and turned into a fist-pumper. When he did the big scream in “I Luv The Valley Oh!” it seemed like everybody at the show was screaming along with him.
This only heightened the contrast of the quiet songs like “Fabulous Muscles” or “Sad Pony Guerrilla Girl”, which the band played super-intensely, at a whisperly volume. Even so, there was still a huge sing-along factor, which felt totally crazy considering that Xiu Xiu are a jarring, aggressive avant band. I was glad to see that in our Tumblrized age, when artistic preferences often seem like branding decisions rather than emotional ones, that so many people are so devoted to the Xiu as to go for it and sing along with “cremate me after you come on my lips / honey boy / place my ashes in a vase beneath your workout bench”.
But Xiu Xiu’s great performance and professional aura was strange in its own way; It’s weird that Stewart can sing in that voice — so unhinged, over-the-top, and vulnerable — and just turn it off and go back to his (surprisingly deep) speaking voice for some terse stage banter. It was a definitely a great show — for the encore, Stewart tied the microphone around his neck and did a blistering take on Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop” and everybody went home exhilarated with catharsis.