Words: Robb S — Photos: Michelle Yass
Rock and Roll Hotel was stage to a showcase of what is good and bad with experimental music today—with Xiu Xiu,Dirty Beaches, and Father Murphy on the bill, the talent was there, the execution not so much.
Opening first for the two syllable duo was Father Murphy… judgement shall not be passed considering I arrived a few minutes shy of their set. If the music they produce is any indication, fans new and old were likely treated to some smoothed out orchestral rock… experimental only in its addition of psychedelia to the mix.
Next up, a personal favorite… Dirty Beaches. He incited a spiritual revival over at DC9 last time he was here; this time the form was much more defined… less spontaneous. A growth in his musicianship and confidence as a performer were certainly evident. For those unfamiliar, he’s a one-man act that uses very little lyrics, though his music is very based in its narratives. Here, Dirty Beaches takes an unorthodox look at rock and blues to produce a sound all its own… a clash of various sounds he executes gloriously. This would be the good face of experimental music: creative musical concepts, lyrics which are just as contemplated as its arrangements, and the ability to mix it all together genuinely, uncontrived.
On the other side of that experimental coin, all the way from San Jose, headliners, Xiu Xiu provided a variant glimpse into the genre. Drawing inspiration from frontman Jamie Stewart’s own loss and heartbreak, elements of rock, synth pop, and a bit of punk mix for a sound that echoes an identical despair. The group’s music takes advantage of the sonic benefits that dissonance provides, much like Dirty Beaches. Unlike their Elvis-esque opener, when bringing such a method to a live show, it sounds like unfocused noise—inaccessible, and unlistenable.
A pet peeve was teased out as neither Stewart, nor bandmate Angela Seo, made any effort to interact with the crowd. We as an audience pay to be entertained, but we also like to have a one-of-a-kind experience when our faves come to town. Instead, what we received was an hour or so long set of whiny, melodramatic indiscernible vocals and lost musical moments. Being only two people on stage, with the majority vocals coming from Stewart, attention is commanded by default. However, with a stage presence as exciting as watching paint dry, it becomes a bit depressing to watch.
Giving this band the benefit of the doubt, and considering their material in-studio sounds decent… I’d suggest giving them a rainy day listen. Xiu Xiu’s most recent album Always is available now on iTunes and Spotify.