Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Experimental rock band Xiu Xiu taps into new energy at Hampshire College


It was the night the outsiders came out to play.

It was a crowd full of people wearing flannel, making jokes about other people wearing flannel; it was a crowd full of people making jokes about the pronunciation of the headlining band’s name, and then making jokes about people making such jokes.

But none of that mattered, due to the fact everyone was at SAGA, Hampshire’s dining commons, Monday, simply to enjoy beautiful music delivered by Xiu Xiu and Tune-Yards.

Xiu Xiu have been around for 12 years now, and it’s no surprise their turnout last night was as successful as it was. In their current incarnation, which consists of core member and songwriter Jamie Stewart and Angela Seo, the band pursued a slightly more dance-oriented sound, occasionally even using a Nintendo DS as an instrument.

With the loss of live drummer Ches Smith, the band has of late been using electronic percussion. Despite this apparent handicap, Xiu Xiu played an admirably energetic and engaging show. In addition to this, recent sensations Tune-Yards made a splash with their tribal soul loop-based music, which, it turned out, almost half the crowd was there to see.

The show began with a brief piece of what could possibly be described as performance art from Luminous Mario and Dieglow. Essentially, concert-goers were treated to a half-naked gentlemen dancing around to remixed versions of club hits. Folks who were unsure of what to make of this had little to worry about, as the performance didn’t last more than about ten minutes. Following this, Tune-Yards took the stage.

With a combination of spunky charm, tribal loops and alternately crooned and shouted vocals, Tune-Yards frontwoman and former Smith College alumni Merrill Garbus exuded an energy rarely seen last Monday. Her passionate and grotesque facial expressions and constant pounding on a drum to create loops meant that every moment she was on stage she was creating some kind of synergy with the crowd. In addition to playing a fantastically dynamic set, she provided what proved to be one of two moments of sheer transcendence that evening: During her set closer, Garbus ordered the entire crowd, which had already been almost fully engaged with her performance, to jump into the air at the same time. Every single member of the crowd did so, in beautiful harmony.

Tune-Yards’ energetic set proved to be a perfect prelude to the thunderstorm of a set provided by Xiu Xiu.

Although Jamie Stewart remained taciturn for the most part, the music spoke for itself. Playing a combination of old favorites like “Poe Poe” and energetic renditions of new songs off the still-fresh release “Dear God I Hate Myself,” seasoned veterans and new fans alike of this beautifully despairing band all had a wonderful time. Jamie Stewart was in excellent form, contorting his face and body in perfect emotional time to his music.

This emphasis on the musical aspect of the performance, rather than actual verbal interaction with the audience, allowed for the second moment of transcendence to occur naturally and beautifully. Halfway through the performance of what has been called one of Xiu Xiu’s defining songs, “I Luv the Valley,” the ultimate moment of catharsis occurred, and Jamie Stewart cried at the top of his lungs (for that is the only way this song can be sung): “Je t’aime the valley/Je t’aime the valley OH!!!” In that moment, the audience achieved a moment of pure connection with artist. Every fist was in the air, and the piercing and yes, sexual cry of “OH!!!” was on everyone’s lips.

On April 12, an energy was tapped into that one doesn’t usually feel at a rock show. It was something primal, yet at the same time highly developed and sophisticated. The Hampshire College Experimental Music Collective – which oversaw the event – should be commended for bringing such excellent acts to the Valley.

Mark Schiffer can be reached at [email protected].

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