I could seriously count on zero fingers the number of bands who have impacted me in the same way as Xiu Xiu over the past decade. Jamie Stewart’s consistently to-the-bone honesty and challenging sonic experimentation is a rare gift. So I was pretty excited to hear that he has joined up with Freddy Ruppert (formerly of This Song is a Mess but So Am I) and Nika Roza (of Zola Jesus) in Former Ghosts. A full-length LP is in the works (to be released sometime this year on Upset the Rhythm Records), but for now you can check out three intriguing songs on their MySpace. The aching and beautiful “Waving” is my personal favorite at the moment, but the other two are superb as well.
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.