The ghostly theatrics of Xiu Xiu have always served as a representation of Jamie Stewart’s unpredictably wide range of emotions.
Stewart, who has managed to splay out his eccentricities album after album, made no exceptions on Xiu Xiu’s most recent album, February’s Forget. That LP, like all of its predecessors, wallowed in sonic uncertainty, lyrical frailty, and vocal peril. There is a semblance of cohesion on Xiu Xiu’s latest creative effort, though, that was absent in their discography for a while; experimentation is still at the forefront of their angsty, avant art rock, but Forget reminded us of just how musically inclined Stewart truly is.
Xiu Xiu’s performance at the Elks Lodge in Cambridge this past Saturday (April 15) was nothing short of mesmerizing. Despite being dwindled down to just two members for this particular show, the duo managed to encapsulate the harrowing nature of their entire discography quite effortlessly. “Petite” was striking in its simmering buildup and taut execution; “Wondering” and its lush, woozy soundscapes were slightly slower paced but still audibly devastating. Fan favorite “Crank Heart” created palpable fervor within the first few seconds of the song.
But it was the controversial “I Luv Abortion” where Stewart was at his most vulnerable and electrifying. From the band’s 2012 album Always, the disturbing track was more of a daring political protest than a mere musical performance. From forcefully stomping across the stage with sweat pouring from his face to screaming and pummeling himself onto the floor, his over the top behavior during “I Luv Abortion” drove home its intensity and intentional rage and discomfort. Lines like “When I look at my thighs I see death” seemed lodged in Stewart’s throat at first, but there was no way that his fury — his righteous indignation — would allow him to be silent.
The euphoria Stewart experienced came in waves. That pulsating, thriving energy that peaked earlier in the evening was eclipsed by somber, steadier apprehension. His eyes, when they weren’t peering around the audience, were rolled in the back of his head as it became clear that he was on the cusp of an out of body experience.
Xiu Xiu’s set wound down with “Sad Pony Guerilla Girl” and although they bid adieu shortly after, they would return to the stage to give us one more agonizing song. “I Broke Up” — which serves as an emotionally unhinged narrative of a relationship falling apart at the seams — was a spooky way to end a night that was excessive even by Xiu Xiu’s standards. They stuck around after the set to break down their gear and simultaneously shake hands with fans and smile at the flashing lights from camera phones. That post-performance friendliness couldn’t negate the feeling of jadedness that we all left with — but that has always been the allure of Stewart and his ever-evolving facet.
Featured Xiu Xiu photo by Candace McDuffie.