LIVE REVIEW: Xiu Xiu @ Glasslands

Xiu Xiu Glasslands

As the driving force behind experimental art rock outfit Xiu Xiu, Jamie Stewart has been known to push boundaries. Constantly reinventing himself (and his music), Stewart’s eccentric and sometimes violent themes are what ties the project together most readily, his fragile shout the crux of the band’s bursting, bloody heart. His line-up of touring musicians rotates regularly, so one never knows what to expect from a Xiu Xiu show, and given Stewart’s prolific output–which has included an album of Nina Simone covers, a collage of Caribbean folk songs and field recordings, a Record Store Day four-LP best-of comp, and Xiu Xiu’s ninth studio album Angel Guts: Red Classroom in just under a year–unpredictability is part of what makes the project so fascinating.

At Glasslands last Saturday, Stewart appeared with pioneering percussionist Shayna Dunkelman by his side. As a duo, the two performed assaultive selections from Angel Guts with an almost frightening intensity; the heightened confusion of “Cinthya’s Unisex,” the awkward desire of “Black Dick,” the almost danceable glitch of “Stupid in the Dark”–these tracks typify the aim of Xiu Xiu’s newest album.

Thematically, there’s the unwavering look at racialized fetishes, the intersections of death and sex, and the dissolution of gender identity that have often appeared throughout Xiu Xiu’s catalogue. Angel Guts is based on a 1979 Japanese film of the same title. Both the album and the movie hinge on unsettling aspects of eroticism and human sexuality, and Stewart’s always been a master of communicating society’s most twisted impulses in his own idiosyncratic manner.

Sonically, Angel Guts is a percussive tour de force, so it makes sense that Stewart would enlist Dunkelman’s unique talents. The Brooklyn-based musician isn’t a drummer in the traditional sense, and that worked out well in interpreting these songs for the stage. She bashes cymbals with kind of antagonistic joy, while the melodic tones from her xylosynth punctured the rapid-fire mish mash from her electronic kit. Stewart created the fuzz, bleeps, bloops, and other electronic miasma roiling like stormy waves under the prow of his characteristically quavering voice.

That Xiu Xiu has become a percussion-focused project as of late is not just an extension of Angel Guts but also of Stewart’s extracurricular activities. He spent September in NYC collaborating with conceptual artist Danh Vō on a series of performances entitled “Metal,” which featured Xiu Xiu’s percussion syncopating with the sound of Thai gold pounders creating the golf leaf Vō’s uses as a medium in real time. Vō and Xiu Xiu also worked together to present “Kling Klang” at the Dumbo Arts Festival, attaching 999 bright-pink vibrators to Vō’s copper We The People installation. The NYC appearance was their only US show before embarking on a European tour that will extend throughout November.

Finishing the set with crowd favorites “Sad Pony Guerilla Girl” and “I Luv the Valley OH!” Xiu Xiu was rushed off stage with no encore to make way for the ensuing dance party at Glasslands. In lieu of playing more songs, an apologetic Stewart told a long joke about a child who idolized clowns; if only it could’ve morphed into “Clowne Towne” the punchline would’ve been far more satisfying. Though songs from much of Xiu Xiu’s back catalogue were absent, it was one of the most inspired, kinetic Xiu Xiu sets I’ve seen, and the times I’ve made it a point to bask in Stewart’s disconcerting presence have been many, stretching all the way back to the early aughts. As challenging as Xiu Xiu can be for some to digest, Stewart remains one of the most extraordinary and important musicians of the last fifteen years, and though you never know what to expect from him, it’s safe to say he’ll be pushing boundaries well into the next decade.

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