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November 8, 2005

Xiu Xiu’s aural assault intensifies Ida Noyes

I’ll be honest; when I heard Xiu Xiu was going to be coming to campus, I had two reactions. The first was, “Yay! I get to see Xiu Xiu!” The other was, “Oh God, I hope this doesn’t suck really bad.” I was thoroughly confused as to why they’d make another trip to Chicago, considering that it would be their fourth show here in the past year. I guess since they came down once more, either Xiu Xiu or their booking agent really likes Chicago, and if it was the latter, they may just be burnt out on the city. I finally decided to hightail it to Ida, figuring that $4 and a three-block walk is very little to lose in comparison to the $30 in transportation and ticket fees, plus two hours on the El, that I’d otherwise accrue if they had played uptown.

I almost considered showing up around two hours late to compensate for time inevitably wasted on setup and opening bands, but for once, I was surprised by the two opening bands—Evan Saathoff, a singer-songwriter type, and Superargo, a highly energetic, theatric dance-punk duo whose act was more about the performance of their music than musicianship.

I’m not a big fan of the whole singer-songwriter thing because it seems so egotistical to me, but I am a huge fan of humor in music. My yearnings for songs about Batman have finally been fulfilled by Evan Saathoff’s songs, called “Nightwing” and “Alfred”; songs about other characters are in the works. (I personally want to see “The Ballad of the Laughing Man and Jason Todd,” but I doubt that will happen anytime soon.) In my opinion, Saathoff’s music was enjoyable, but not remarkable. But then again, I don’t like singer-songwriters.

While Saathoff wasn’t particularly memorable on his own, he definitely showed off his energy when he made an spectacular transformation into Skullface and went on with Superargo. I don’t know whether to call Superargo musicians or dancers, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t put on a good show. For clarity’s sake, the band Superargo consists of Superargo himself and Skullface, two characters who apparently eschew normal life in favor of playing music and making people dance. For the U of C, the latter was a decent success, with about half of the audience swaying somewhat to the beat. The only music playing was coming from Superargo’s laptop, from which he coordinated a multimedia show featuring deranged tales told by Superargo’s father, and was accompanied by the vibrant dancing of Skullface. I really liked the schizoprenic video-game dance music they played, which often featured samples from the original Super Mario Brothers, but unless some of it is live, they’re going to end up like Blue Man Group. And nobody wants to be Blue Man Group.

Xiu Xiu, was well, Xiu Xiu. As far as bands go, they’re unique; it’s not like I could say, take the lyrics of so-and-so and the chops of what’s-his-name and that’s what Xiu Xiu is like. They’re completely original; I don’t think I’ve ever seen an accordion and a zither used so naturally. Xiu Xiu’s music is like a complete outpouring of emotion in sonic assault form—and I mean assault. Frontman Jamie Stewart complained when his sound technician turned his microphone down to only about half of the volume of the rest of the setup. This man screams. He gets angry, he cries onstage, he frets. I’ve never seen a musical duo make more noise before.

I was lucky enough to get to ask Jamie Stewart about where his music came from, and I apologize that I don’t have a quote, but it’s the same reason why his songs are so stark. Instead of trying to slip into a character, Stewart likes to factualize his performance. He presents the experience and lets you formulate a (usually very strong) reaction. To see what I mean, try listening to “Support Our Troops” really loud in, say, the Political Science department with a straight face.

I’d like to congratulate The Hive and WHPK for putting on another great show. Hopefully they can continue with many more, giving students a chance to see talented new musicians and underappreciated staples of the music world. It really sucks that all the people with good taste in music are too busy running a radio station to, say, take over MAB.