all words: Andy Hess
all photos: Shauna Alexander
Brooklyn’s Xiu Xiu can clear a room in one song. Because that’s exactly what happened Wednesday night at DC 9. Kicking off their hour plus set with “Black Drum Machine,” arguably the group’s most disturbing track, I watched the crowd swell from capacity to having plenty of space around me. But if you stuck with Xiu Xiu, they rewarded your patience with a quality set that focused heavily on material from the recent release Dear God, I Hate Myself.
Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart is sort of an indie rock enigma. He writes disturbing, disgusting tales of self-loathing and longing. Sample lyrics include: “Why would a mother say such things/ Why add tongue to a kiss goodnight?” from “Black Keyboard” and “Your brother was the first boy inside of you/My father was the second man inside of you” from the aforementioned “Black Drum Machine”. Needless to say, they require a lot of work to appreciate and even comprehend. It’s more performance art than actual music. But that’s not to say that the band can’t write quality pop songs. Peppered through the more difficult numbers musically were pop gems coated in mud (“I Luv The Valley OH!”, “Chocolate Makes You Happy”, “Gray Death” to name a few). While Stewart’s confessional tales began to grow trite after hitting the one hour mark, the highs were enough to overcompensate for the 15 minutes of unnecessary mumblings and noise. At the end of the day, Xiu Xiu walk the line between being absolutely awful and complete genius. I’m just not sure which side I fall on yet.
tUnE-yArDs is the musical project of New England native Merrill Garbus. With a sound that is self-described as “Your mom when she gets really mad but instead of whoopin’ yo’ ass she starts making crazy-ass beats with the pots and pans AND yo’ ass,” Garbus is a one of a kind performer. Too bad she spent the middle part of her 30 minute set fielding questions from the audience after breaking a ukulele string two songs into her set. But after answering questions regarding the kid who speaks on her debut album BiRd-BrAiNs (she used to be his nanny) to the inspiration for her haircut (she wanted something asymmetrical). When the music restarted Garbus made due with the time left and absolutely floored DC 9 with a fearless performance. The ultimate draw is her voice. It has a way of taking this potential campfire songs and turns them into breathtaking call in response anthems (“Do you want to live?!”). I implore you pick up her debut record and see her next time she’s in town. You’ll be wowed as well.
With a sound that falls between Cocteau Twins and Stereolab, Twin Sister played a short, mostly engaging set. Songs like “The Other Side of Your Face” and “All Around and Away We Go” are deserving for a group that seems like is getting decent press in all the right places. The rest of the songs during their 30 minutes seemed to meander and not go anywhere. This is a disappointment since I have had their EP, Color Your Life on repeat for days. Here’s the Silver lining: Twin Sister are on the cusp of something, but they’re not there yet.