(Editor’s note: This post originally ran March 8, 2005. Larger photos have since been added. Ah, to be young…)
I saw Xiu Xiu and their opener, Division Day, at UCLA’s Cooperage last night. The Coop is a pizza place that on occasional weeknights masquerades as a rectangle-shaped rock ‘n’ roll venue with tables, chairs, and mediocre sound. I’ve seen a lot of great shows there, most notably the Decemberists just after they released Her Majesty in fall 2003, and my personal favorite, a forty-five minute trainwreck where Phil Elvrum (Mount Eerie) played about 8 songs and went on an extensive monologue about how he was on this tour where they “drove three or four hours to the desert and back” every night so they could come play shows. Then he tried to bum a ride to Santa Cruz. If I only had a car.
All photos by David Greenwald
Division Day took the stage just after 7, and because they didn’t really introduce themselves and I’m not very familiar with Xiu Xiu, I assumed they were the only band listed on the poster and so was pleasantly surprised to discover that Xiu Xiu weren’t so bad after all! I haven’t listened to their albums yet, but live, Division Day sounded like the Cure might have if Robert Smith had spent his childhood locked in Tim Kasher’s basement somewhere in Omaha. Their music has a definite sense of claustrophobia, of being alone someplace dark and scary. They couldn’t even begin to prepare me for Xiu Xiu.
If Division Day sounded a little pent-up, “Shoe Shoe” were being buried alive. Their songs deal with fear and pain and sweat, exploring a trail into the human psyche that not everyone will be willing to follow them down. I would call them “intense.” My friend Eric put it more succinctly; “That was FUCKED UP,” he told me afterwards.
Xiu Xiu had one of the more interesting set-ups I’ve ever seen. Their Kill Rock Stars factsheet lists them as having seven current members, but only two were present. The enigmatic singer/guitarist Jamie Stewart helped out his female bandmate on the drum set, which was spread out around their electronics and a bizarre standing accordion. None of the songs had traditional drums, using a drum machine along with various cymbals. At one point, the female multi-instrumentalist (Caralee McElroy, perhaps?) rubbed her microphone against one of the drums to create a paper-like sound. Electronics and percussion in place, Stewart alternated between strumming an acoustic guitar as delicately as can be (done to greatest effect during the homoerotic necrophilia ballad “Fabulous Muscles”) and attacking it ferociously as he crouched and screamed into the mic. Stewart’s wavering vocals were tense and emotional, a fitting vessel for lines like “It’s a pill and you’ve got to take it!” You can get a taste of what it was like with this video of “I Love The Valley OH!” (Removed) Personally, I came home with two Division Day EPs.
I had a few realizations at the show, which was my first at the Coop all year. First, UCLA seems to have up and developed a scene on me. When I saw the Decemberists last year, it was with 20 or so people. A noon concert by the Wrens drew less than 30. The Coop was packed last night, and I only got a seat after Eric’s lady friend left. I don’t know if this is because of the mainstreaming of indie or what – Xiu Xiu will certainly never be on The O.C., but perhaps the incoming freshmen have had a better musical upbringing than that of my generation. Another thing I noticed among the parade of indie kids with their stereotypical hipster clothing was that this indeed still UCLA. No one here is poor, and if they are, they’re on scholarship. Ironically, an unknown band like Division Day wears thrift store shirts and shitty jeans because it’s all the members can afford. Their audience wears them by choice, to be cool – like their favorite indie rockers. So much for nonconformity. Then again, I was rockin’ my oldskool 80s Nike track jacket and a Mount Eerie tee shirt, and I haven’t shaved in days. Um…rawk?
I bring my camera to shows. Click below for more photos and reviews.