Tour De Force

On the Road with Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart

by Max Burke

XiuXiu01.jpgJamie Stewart was on the road from Ohio
to Kentucky when I finally got him by phone for our interview — he
sounded groggy, but sleeplessness begets candor and he began to
talk about “the slow deterioration” that all hard-touring bands
face. “One of the fun things and the weird things about being on
tour is you start going really crazy,” said the Xiu Xiu lead
singer. “Your perception gets muted and mangled.”

Currently Xiu Xiu is in the midst of a cross-country trek in
support of their new record The Air Force. All the while, the tour
is being relentlessly documented with blog posts on the band’s Web
site,, and videos on youtube .com. The videos and the
blog entries, however, rarely focus on the shows Xiu Xiu is playing
nearly every night.

Instead, Xiu Xiu’s online presence shows the band “just doing
what we normally do and documenting it.” The barrage of media and
prose from the Xiu Xiu camp isn’t so much a conscious change of
direction as much as the result of new alliances. The artist David
Horvitz is along for the entire tour, documenting the band for
inclusion on a future DVD. The group, which includes Stewart,
Caralee McElroy, and new member Ches Smith, has traveled many
places outside of the standard North American or Western European
routes. Shows in Serbia, Croatia, Japan, and Moscow have kept them
busy, but it’s the large outdoor festivals in Europe and the States
that provide the most laughs. “The sound is always horrible, none
of the gear they rent ever works. It’s not even like a real show,”
Stewart said, sounding more amused than annoyed. “Festivals are
completely experiential.”

Although loaded adjectives have been attached to Xiu Xiu’s music
since the release of their first album, Knife Play, words such as
“cathartic,” “confrontational,” and “moody” only touch the surface
of the group’s music, failing to recognize Stewart’s tremendous
talents as a storyteller and the unique swath of sonic terrain the
group have staked out as their own in the last four years. A single
song can transform from a haunting, acoustic melody into a raucous
tangle of electronic screeches and feedback, and then take off into
a full-on keyboard and percussion freak-out without skipping a

As a live band, Xiu Xiu are arresting performers. The often
claustrophobic atmosphere of their records is condensed into short,
focused bursts of song that are meticulously crafted with a variety
of instrumentation, from auto-harp to electronic drum pad, and are
played with a deeply felt conviction. Being able to record,
release, and tour one’s music as a living seems to be the
aspiration of any fledgling group, and Xiu Xiu is living the dream.
The band released their third album, Fabulous Muscles, in 2004. “I
was certainly aware of, once that record came out, the number of
people at shows and that the number of records we were selling was
much higher. But I don’t think we’ve done anything different,” said
Stewart. Good thing, since the formula seems to be working for this
weirdly funny and constantly surprising band.


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