Last Night...Xiu Xiu, Thao Nguyen, Slight Harp @ Hi-Dive

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Xiu Xiu, Thao Nguyen, Slight Harp Tuesday, March 11, 2008 Hi-Dive Better than: The Cure

When Xiu Xiu were first starting out, some interviewer asked frontman Jamie Stewart to describe Xiu Xiu sound. With tongue held firmly in cheek, Stewart described the band as a “combination between Black Sabbath, Sandy Bull, (composer) Toru Takamitsu, and The Cure.“ This description, while completely over the top, says a lot about the ethos of a band that has always thrown everything into a blender, and never cared about what came out on the other end.

Beginning the night were locals Slight Harp, an odd choice when put against the other two bands. With a dynamic that relies on repetition, the band's songs seemed to push against themselves for release but there was no release in the offing. More than anything else, Slight Harp seemed like a band best built to provide the soundtrack for movie like, say, Blair Witch 7, not a rock show.

In comparison to Slight Harp, Thao Nguyen, and her backing band The Get Down Stay Down, hit the stage like a freight train. Upbeat, jangling, and a bit sauced, Thao grabbed songs off her new record, We Brave Bee Stings And All, and shot them back at the audience. Thao’s stage presence was magnetic, and the GDSD played like the E Street Band to her Bruce. However, unlike the best bar bands, as the set went on, her songs began to lose their “edge,” and even the energy that she brought earlier could not bring them back from the edge of inertia. Regardless, her rapport with the audience was unmistakable, and overall made for an enjoyable experience.

Taking the stage as a full band, Xiu Xiu began their set with a bit of electro-shock. While their sound, recorded, has always had streaks of violence (real and imagined) running through it, live the band sounds like an electrocution amplified. Add to all of this Jamie Stewart’s Morrissey meets Herman Munster vocals, and you have a sound that could leave even the biggest badass shaken….and maybe a little confused.

As the band ran through their set, which focused mostly on their new record Women As Lovers, it was a revelation to watch the chaos of instrumentation, a melodica here, a flute there, distorted bass, gamelan percussion, break apart, come together, and then be bulldozed again, much like any of the worthless descriptions used to characterize the band themselves. -- Jeremy Brashaw

Critic’s Notebook

Personal Bias: This was the first time I had ever seen Xiu Xiu as a full band. The other times had been as a two-piece. SEE THE FULL BAND! Random Detail: Slight Harp sported a Theremin. It's been about twelve years since I have seen a band rock a Theremin. Start the comeback. By the Way: Xiu Xiu did not do their cover of Queen and Bowie’s “Under Pressure.” Huge disappointment.

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