The first time I saw Xiu Xiu was in a less than ideal setting: early afternoon at a summer music festival. This is not music built for plus-100 degree heat with the sun melting your ass. Though, for me at least and on this one day, the oppressive thickness of the Chicago air somehow met the pitch black hymns halfway. Dancing to dehydration made sense when Out Hud was onstage, but to bake during Xiu Xiu is a bit much. I just didn’t care. This was my band.
I managed to worm my way to the front of the crowd, within an arm’s reach of the steel barricade, where stood one of the sweatiest and dorkiest fans I had seen that day. He shouted at Jamie Stewart, not to express affection, but to voice-crackle a “Hey Jamie! Throw me one of those water bottles!”. This is the point where I learned just how athletically inept most Xiu Xiu fans must be as I turned my head to watch Dungen (I think) wrap up their set on the other stage, idiotically placing faith in this guy’s anti-Jerry Riceness. The water bottle crashed into my shoulder like a scud missile. Or like a water bottle. Or like a mixed metaphor.
Fast forward a few months to another Xiu XIu show, this time in Fayetteville, which I was supposed to attend. I was unable to make it, so Sarah explained my situation to J. Stewart himself, intoning that I was a super fan and devastated by my absence. And that he once hit me with a water bottle. He wrote a note apologizing for the incident, giving me permission to hurl a fire extinguisher at him the next time we met. The next time I saw him was in Oklahoma City. He passed in front of me, our eyes briefly locked, but even if I had my extinguisher with me, I’m pretty sure I would’ve declared a cease fire. I hang on to that note to this day in the knowledge that it means as much to me as a John Lennon autograph would to most people.
I look forward to each Xiu Xiu split, each 7”, each album, with the same anticipation people look forward to a new season of “Lost”, even with the understanding that they may never top “Fabulous Muscles” in overall personal importance. The catharsis of Jamie Stewart’s lyrics got me through some rough patches in college, and while I love all of Xiu Xiu’s albums (plus his pre-Xiu Xiu band Ten in the Swear Jar), this is the band’s most successful melding of Dennis Cooper/Harmony Korine/Todd Solondz-level shock horror to pure pop epiphany. In 2004 I was well aware that I would never comprehend the American mainstream way of life, but I felt okay with that disconnect the first time I pulled through the Wal-Mart parking lot listening to “I Love the Valley OH!” with my windows down.
Like much of my early musical education, I discovered Echo and the Bunnymen while watching MTV’s “120 Minutes” and their silly band name and possibly sillier coifs stuck in my mind until I eventually purchased “Ocean Rain” at a Dallas record store during a family shopping trip; the same day I bought Sonic Youth’s “A Thousand Leaves” and Sugar’s “Copper Blue”. I quickly became so obsessed with that album that I greedily snatched up anything else I could find by the band, and their first five albums are essential. But “Heaven Up Here” is tops.
Ian McCullough’s vocals have often been compared to Jim Morrison’s, and considering that Ian Curtis was also a big fan, he seems a particularly strange touchstone for post-punk Ians. But as this was a style of music that was theatrical, and at times skirting histrionic, it sort of makes some sense. The post-punk bands seemed to take the tortured artist template to an extreme, possibly giving way to the misuse of form utilized by emo bands in much the same manner that Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder’s angsty howls were boringly homogenized by Scott Stapp and his minions. Misappropriation shouldn’t devalue this music though.
The opening three songs on this album rival in intensity anything released under the post-punk banner, with “Over the Wall” continuing to astound me everytime I listen to it. Things turn exceptionally dark during the gothic center of the album, with the brief but wrenching “The Disease” followed by the epic “All My Colours”, the two songs which seem to encapsulate the feeling of the album artwork. I’m a big fan of bands who maintain a consistent artwork aesthetic (The Smiths and Joy Division are two other prime examples), and few bands had artwork as evocative and successfully simple as Echo and the Bunnymen.
Any cursory listen to an Echo and the Bunnymen live bootleg (or any of the live videos below) is proof that this was one of the most thrilling live acts of the ’80s and were actually more comfortable and adept in that setting than U2, despite all the empty poses Bono has made to the contrary. Arena rock for people who don’t like people.
Today: Aaron. Tomorrow: The World.
Favorite Songs of the Past Year:
—> videotape:radiohead –> tonto:battles –> Hvarf/Heim (the whole thing):sigur ros –> down the line:jose gonzales –> flightless bird american mouth, kingdom of the animals, and boy with a coin:iron&wine –> seahorse:devendra banhart –> if you keep losing sleep:silverchair –> impossible germany:wilco –> sometimes i dream i’m hurting you:angels of light –> spitting venom:modest mouse –> easy tiger(the whole thing):ryan adams –> archangel:burial
Favorite Older Songs of the Moment:
for the moment — one big holiday:my morning jacket — lay down your weary tune:bob dylan — scenic world:beirut — — punkrocker:teddybears —
Favorite New Band or Older Band You Recently Discovered: fav’rit new bands – dengue fever, beirut, battles, hmm… older recently discover’ds – townes van zandt, ryan adams, depeche mode
Favorite Song Ever:
Best Recent Concert:
silverchair probably wins — but i saw a lot of good shows within the last year —
Last Great Film I Saw:
naughty night nurses: asian attack emergency triage center
Last Great Book I Read:
perks of being a wallflower
First Album You Remember Buying:
3…matchbox twenty: cannon ball hat man album, third eye blind : third eye blind — eve 6 : eve 6
Favorite Band to Hate On That All Your Friends Heart:
the smiths the cure
Best Purchase of the Last Year:
my elton john’s for 21 cents and radiohead in rainbows box set — radiohead ticket —
Best Thing I Did This Year:
failed school and played in a band
Favorite Recent Drunk Moment:
wrestling olen + fighting travis + running naked down country club + arguing with blake about things that probably didn’t even exist + going to class + driving + escaping the authorities at mc d’s + wrangling dave dickinson + rocking out to small town trap + watching travis destroy furniture + new years listening to deathcab and trying not to cry + when blake ran as hard as he could and fell on his face in the front yard + taking thousands of pictures with topher p. + chooga chooga two two + playing cross fire with urine + throwing bottles at calla +
Favorite TV Show at the Moment:
curb your enthusiasm and it’s always sunny in philadelphia
Favorite Video Game at the Moment:
poker on my ipod
Most Commonly Eaten Food Product:
free bread, beans, old treats, TOTINO’S