Solo Steward sings the sorrow

By Evan Arnold

Jamie Steward of Xiu Xiu brilliantly combines histrionics and honesty for the live performance. As much performer as musician, his songs are stories replete with multiple voices, raw sexuality, remorse, and vulgarity. Following up the release of Fag Patrol, Steward is touring solo, playing either a shrill, slightly distorted guitar or what appears to be a harmonium.

The band’s previous releases featured a four-member lineup. The songs were polished with gentle synthetic tones, jarring sampling, and were generally upbeat. While unique, the band fit nicely into the indie scene by being depressing yet danceable and original with obvious influences. Now, stripped down, Steward’s live performance is deeply disturbing and stand-alone. Each song feels like a sepia postcard of an unhappy moment rendered in two tones:faded and beautiful, or perhaps a Sunday evening from winter quarter—dark, cold, and seemingly inescapable.

Steward screams in a panicked shrill, responds to his screams in a cowering mutter, and then swells with his characteristically bold voice. He mutters gibberish, hums, and whistles to evoke distant conversation or a young girl’s laugh. While other musicians make tawdry affairs and depression seem sexy, Steward reminds you that lost love and shame are painful. Finally, you come to question the value of deceptive music and realize that Steward has delivered an experience that is not just aesthetically appealing but also demands introspection.