Saturday night, Norah and I went to the Middle East for some rather strange music. At least, it's not the kind of thing I normally gravitate toward. I don't remember exactly where I first heard of Xiu Xiu, but when Norah mentioned them in an e-mail, they rang a bell. I associated them with the indie hipster set, but I knew nothing about their music. I listened to a couple of iTunes clips to get a feel for them, but it was a rather poor introduction. Even after having heard a one hour performance, I'm not sure exactly how I'd describe them.
It was my first time at Middle East since Anthony, his girlfriend, a couple of her students, and I met there for breakfast one Sunday, a long time ago. It was long enough ago such that I didn't realize until rather late in the game, as Norah was driving us around Boston, that we were way over on the wrong end of Massachusetts Ave. My fault. Anyway, after getting settled in, Nora and I spend a solid hour or so talking about the finer points of 1970s rock music--beginning and ending with Neil Young--before going downstairs to catch Tune Yards and Xiu Xiu (we skipped Twin Sister).
Tune Yards didn't do much for me. They are a guy-gal duo, the guy on bass, the gal on vocals and guitar, and both on percussion-heavy synths. At least, that's what it seemed from where I was standing; I didn't have a clear line of vision. The gal looped some strange vocal noises that she made and mixed them in with the synthed percussion and bass. Parts of it--the parts that were beat-heavy--kept my attention. Other parts of it--almost everything pertaining to the vocals--turned me off. So, while I didn't hate it, I didn't particularly like it either.
The featured act was also a duo. The bandleader, Jamie, played electric guitar, and he and his bandmate had a wide variety of percussion devices arrayed in front of them, along with a series of other devices, musical and non, placed on a table. The bandmate (Angela, I think her name is) seemed to focus more on synths and keyboard, although she really knew how to whack her percussion equipment. She had drumsticks, and she knew how to use them. I guess. Since I didn't know any of their songs, and it was difficult to make out what the singer was singing about, I paid more attention to the instrumental stuff and the overall tone and mood. I'm still not exactly sure what to make of it, or if there is anything to be made of it. Norah says this guy's a genius. I'll reserve judgment until I take the time to listen to some of their songs. There was certainly a lot of emotion, and I sense that this guy was exposing himself up on stage. And some of the sounds, even the cacophonous stuff, was interesting, like something I might want to listen to again one day. For the moment, though, Jamie is a bit of a mystery to me. When I saw him, for some reason, all I could think about was Vincent Gallo, the dude who made The Brown Bunny.
I see that these two groups are playing at Hampshire College Monday night. I also see that Robert Christgau has written reviews of both of their albums. See here and here. Interesting. Again, perhaps there's more to both Jamie and Merrill than I could tell from a single live performance. Geniuses or full of shit, they were quite a change of pace for me, and I'm glad I saw them.