Midtown Street Fair, Xiu Xiu at The Southern, Generationals and Jets at the Tea Bazaar

September 10th, 2011 · 5 Comments · By

First up this Saturday afternoon, the 2nd annual Midtown Street Fair is happening right this second! It’s a really cool event with lots and lots of neat vendors of all varieties, arts and crafts makers, bands, bar-b-que, games, and much more, so make your way out to West Main Street and check that out! It’s happening now until 5PM!

Later this evening, down at The Southern, Xiu Xiu are performing. Xiu Xiu play fractured, upsetting, keyboard-driven noise-pop. Xiu Xiu are certainly not for all audiences, but those that like Xiu Xiu love them. This little pull from their press quote would seem to sum it up quite nicely:

Xiu Xiu have been called “self flagellating,” “harsh,” “brutal,” “shocking,” and “perverse” but also “genius,” “brilliant,” “unique,” “imaginative,” and “luminous.”

Yeah, that’s pretty much it! They’re bringing along a couple bands with them called Kindest Lines and Hedgehog. If I had more time, I’d do my due diligence and research those bands and describe them to you, but unfortunately you’re on your own this time. According to their website, Hedgehog are from Beijing, so that’s certainly an interesting start! That one’s at 8PM and costs $10.

Meanwhile, over at the Tea Bazaar, there’s a show that resides at more or less the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Generationals are a newish band from New Orleans on Park The Van Records. They make fun, upbeat, but not overtly poppy indie-rock with some definite 60s pop/soul influence. Having had the pleasure of seeing these folks a couple times already and I can vouch that they’re worth the hype. They’re just a damn good, very likable rock band with plenty of catchy songs.

Opening up are Charlottesville’s fairly new local supergroup Infinite Jets, featuring rockers from a bunch of great C-ville bands past and present. If you’ve read any of our past write-ups on them, then you know the drill. It’s a big ol’ triple-guitar attack backed by a solid veteran rhythm section. Lotsa fun! This show kicks off at 9PM. (FYI, that’s doors at 9PM, music at 9:30PM. Hoping for both bands to play good long sets, but only if you show up on time!)

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Erik // Sep 10, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Hedgehog is the shit, I’ve seen them live and they are awesome.

  • 2 James // Sep 10, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    I was initially gonna write this big digressive and rambling post about how Xiu Xiu are one of the best bands of the past 10 years, but upon further consideration maybe the comments are the best place for that, rather than the site’s front page… anyway:

    Xiu Xiu are fucking amazing, and were a really important band for me and a lot of my west-coast friends during our college years in the early-/mid-00’s, so I’ve been kind of surprised recently to learn that a lot of folks I know around here don’t really know what they’re about, or have never heard their music but only know the band’s name (pronounced “shoe shoe,” not “ksyoo ksyoo” — they’re named after this movie, which is reportedly an extremely harrowing bummer. there were so many confusing conversations about the band name when they first came out that one college friend would sarcastically refer to them as “that choo choo band”)

    Xiu Xiu are from San Jose, and have a rotating cast of musicians centered around their man guy / frontman, Jamie Stewart (sometimes it’s just him and his cousin playing as a duo, and sometimes they have a larger ensemble featuring members of Deerhoof, 7 Year Rabbit Cycle, etc.) I first started hearing about them around the time their second proper album, “A Promise,” came out in 2003… I guess I had read some stuff about how they were this innovative new band who were super-confessional and maybe also kind of gothy and dancy, and I had sort of assumed that they sounded like Interpol or something.

    …So I was pretty shocked when I eventually actually heard their debut record, “Knife Play” — it’s just an intensely confrontational and abrasive album, not just sonically harsh (there’s a lot of scraping, overblown chiming, distorted drum machines, brittle synths, and what little guitar is there is mostly textural — imagine 80’s-era Einstrüzende Neubauten trying to make a New Wave record), but lyrically as well. Despite the deconstructive din, the most striking thing about the band is definitely Jamie Stewart’s vocals, which are often just incredibly raw and awkward. He frequently screams or yelps unexpectedly, his voice going WAY outside of where it should properly fit on a traditionally mixed recording, deliberately making his voice crack or fail in a way that just sounds totally *off* and wrong; but he’ll also whisper at a barely audible level, or over-enunciate sarcastically… It’s a pretty confrontational tactic, but also an enormously successful and worthwhile one (although it’s led to the accusations of pretension and solipsism that were typical of a lot of their early reviews.)

    The thing that makes Stewart really remarkable as a vocalist and also a frontman / weird punk idol character is that he’s completely unafraid not just of singing “off” or “wrong,” but also of making himself appear totally pathetic or diving deep into intensely personal, often traumatic or embarrassing material and delivery — there’s an overwhelming sense that this music is being performed as a cathartic, cleansing purge of intense emotional pain. What makes this artistically worthwhile instead of just annoying is that a) he’s actually got an incredible range, and can sing a perfectly gentle, intimate ballad in a fine, lovely voice when he wants to, b) he’s also completely self-aware, and has a very intelligent understanding of how what he’s doing works artistically, and when it might not, and c) he’s can also be kind of self-deprecatingly funny in the same way that Morrisey often can be, such as when he screams “This is the worst vacation ever,” quietly sighs “Oh, I know… you’re not coming to my birthday party,” or laments “my hair is a jerk’s hair,” or when he compares himself to Ian Curtis and then immediately shrieks “I CAN’T BELIEVE I SAID THAT!” He’s not afraid to find unexpected moments of dumb humor in material that’s overwhelmingly perverse or bizarre; “Mike,” a whisper-quiet album-closing ballad recorded about the recent death of his (reportedly abusive) father, ends with a “Pull My Finger” joke.

    That’s fairly typical of their content, too: the lyrics are often deeply upsetting and uncomfortable in an intensely personal way; song topics include depression, suicide, mental illness, child abuse, AIDS, shyness, getting harassed for being transgender, being inexperienced at sadomasochism, wanting to rape George Bush to death, and feeling overwhelmingly mortified about being a bad dancer. a lot of it is really extreme, but none of it is really being done for shock value; all the songs are completely sincere, are written about the personal life experiences of the band members and those close to them. the shocking subject matter isn’t “juvenile” in the sense that it seeks a cheap provocation; it’s more like the juvenelia of the intensely personal diary of a depressed teenager. (their most recent album is entitled “Dear God I Hate Myself,” so succinct a summation of their aesthetic that it’s almost redundant)

    “Knife Play” was released with a red sticker on the jewel case that says “When my mom died I listened to Henry Cowell, Joy Division, Detroit techno, the Smiths, Takemitsu, Sabbath, Gamelan, ‘Black Angels’ and Cecil Taylor.” it’s an off-puttingly unusual thing to have on your cover art, especially in the place where a normal band might have, like, a nice pull-quote review from NPR or something. But I think it’s an important key to understanding how their career began; not only is it a sleeve-wearing, nerdy record-geek list of influences, a defiant (and hopeful!) identification with the pop-cultish and avant-mainstream, but the “my mom died” part is important, too — this is a band for whom being confrontationally and uncomfortably personable is their mission statement, to the point where their promo materials are about parental death.

    Along with that debut album, the two following records,”A Promise” and “Fabulous Muscles,” are definitely the high points of the Xiu Xiu discography; the cacophony dies down somewhat and you can hear more strummed guitars, synths and electronic sounds, albeit sounds that are disruptive and disorienting as often as they are rhythmic or groovy. But there’s also some truly catchy moments of pop-brilliance in there as well; hit ‘singles’ like “Sad Pony Girl” and “I Luv the Valley” are the kind of weird-but-catchy songs that burrow into your brain and beg to be listened to on repeat.

    At their best, they make songs of unbelievable power, and it’s not always the aggressive or atonal moments that get the most attention; they can also produce a song like “Fabulous Muscles,” an incredibly sweet, almost unbearably intimate ballad with shockingly disturbing, Dennis Cooper-inspired lyrics about broken necks, deformed penises and cremation — or “Support Our Troops!” a witheringly sarcastic spoken-word piece (over cymbal scraping and feedback) about the Iraq War that might be the harshest protest song I’ve ever heard.

    They’ve managed the impressive feat of putting out an album a year since 2002 (not counting EPs, collaborations, sie- etc); I can’t say their recent material is as strong as that first classic trilogy of albums, but I’m really glad that they’re still out there churning out material, and like the late-80’s Prince era, every album still has a few moments of brilliance that make them worthwhile (oddly enough, it’s usually the ballads; check out “Wig Master,” “Buzz Saw,” “Master of the Bump,” and the collaborations with Larsen and Grouper for the highlights of their recent career.)

    Despite their detractors, Xiu Xiu also inspire a sort of cultish devotion amongst their most fervent admirers. This cult was already growing by the time I had the chance to see them play in LA in early 2004 (this was shortly after the release of “Fabulous Muscles”, and I was a newly appointed Xiu Xiu obsessive myself). The afternoon of the show I happened to be talking to my friend Max Fenton (whom many readers of this blog may recognize), the fellow who had turned me on to Xiu Xiu in the first place, and who had seen them play in New York a week or so earlier. he described the show as one of those intensely worshipful gigs that happened in near-total silence, where the front rows of fans were nodding and mouthing along the lyrics to every single song, and sometimes literally weeping.

    As it turns out, I actually wasn’t able to make it to the show that night (I can’t remember what the conflicting event was, 7 years later) but something about Max’s description almost made me glad I had missed it; in my experience, concerts where the audience is *that* obsessed are almost too intense to actually to enjoy… sometimes it seems like the fan adoration is so suffocating that there’s no air left in the room for the music itself, especially if you’re one of the ones who isn’t crying but still likes the band.

    but in a bizarre twist of fate, somehow Xiu Xiu ended up playing a last-minute show the next afternoon… in the UCLA cafeteria. I have no idea how on earth that might have come about, but let me tell you that the UCLA dining hall at 4:00 in the afternoon is perhaps the strangest possible place to have heard Xiu Xiu. they performed as a duo, and played mostly extremely subdued material, often just vocals accompanied by autoharp, chimes, and occasionally a disruptively loud House beat (the highlight may have been a performance of “Ale,” from the then-unreleased “La Forêt” album).
    Sure, there were a bunch of fans there, some of them obsessive — but there were also just some lonely kids who just came in to eat dinner by themselves and clearly had absolutely no idea what was going on. it was awkward, it was weird, it was beautiful, it was uncomfortable, it was a little bit funny — it was kind of the perfect way to hear Xiu Xiu.

    I missed their previous show in Charlottesville, a gig at the Satellite Ballroom back in 2006 (during which Stewart reportedly got into a fight with the sound guy — apparently, that’s not a rare occurrence at a Xiu Xiu show; this band doesn’t WANT to sound correct) but anyhow I’m really excited to hear them play here tonight.

  • 3 Jon bray // Sep 10, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Does anyone have the cliff notes for what james just said?

  • 4 James // Sep 10, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    short version: Xiu Xiu are a really great and interesting band and you should go see them play tonight!

  • 5 Eastwood // Oct 16, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Those concerned with privacy will be relieved to know you can prevent the public from seeing your personal listening habits if you so choose.