Intimate nights at the Bowery are like unembarrassing stand-up routines by Carrot Top: next to impossible, punishable at best. Still, if we forget the nutso in the back who screamed, “Fascists! All of you!” and the other nutso who loudly pointed out lead singer Jamie Stewart’s similarities to Michael McDonald (it’s true, though), Frisco-based shock artists Xiu Xiu scored unprecedented quietude and used this close relationship with the audience to crucial effect. Xiu Xiu’s music exists precisely to turn such intimacy inside out. Without all ears and pinky-swearing trust, lyrics like “Cremate me after you cum on my lips” and “I will shoot this arrow right up your anus” can miss, we’ll say, their mark.
Fitting then for Stewart to begin the set with new song “Ale”; over Caralee McElroy’s reedy drones, which she teased out of her harmonium with suggestive sleight, Stewart whispered, barely, “Shut up, shut up . . . ” Everyone laughed uncomfortably, because in fact, the room had been shut up for 10 minutes now. Before Xiu Xiu had taken the stage, some clown mockingly shushed this tame crowd, then another clown followed suit, then another, until the shushes spread wall to wall and the heckle had physically run its course. Stewart continued: “Is that your glass heart clinking?”
The rest was less pin-drop spare. Xiu Xiu cymbal-banged along to hellish synthpop loops (“Muppet Face”), ululated in French to smashed (but not Smash Mouth’d) ’90s alt-rock strums (“I Luv the Valley Oh!”), and all but mutilated themselves for the operatic “Apistat Commander,” a crooked pop song equal parts Robert Smith, high school theater, and full-on blasts of noise, if we must distinguish the three (burnt!). Get to know Stewart up close—the sissy-faced tantrums, the bedroom dancing, the heavy Autoharp petting—and he’ll confirm everything his discography only hints at: Dude’s a fuckjob, but quite the entertainer.
Beforehand: Victoria, Canada’s Frog Eyes, the Bowie-fied freak-rock outfit every new “indie with eccentric singing” act is secretly ripping off, felt pressure to assert their testicularly titled primacy and ended up overcompensating. No one is entirely at fault here, but the band’s new guitarist does look like David Cross.