Xiu Xiu at the XOYO – one for the haters to get their teeth into. Events rarely come more Shoreditch than this; an avant-garde duo from San Jose, California, playing to the angled haircuts of the East End elitists. All fizzing noise, sparking melody and helpless, disembodied wailing. Even the – newly crowned - XX were in attendance for this one. Luckily, nobody left disappointed.

Early on in the evening it looked as though newcomers Former Ghosts (with whom Xiu Xiu mainstay Jamie Stewart plays guitar alongside vocal contributions from Zola Jesus) might upstage the headline act. The earnest, macabre tones of (sole permanent) member Freddy Ruppert had beguiled the crowd, mixing stylised Depeche Mode synths with Morrisey aping self-flagellation. But after just a few seconds of Xiu Xiu the difference in class was evident; the king had reclaimed his throne.

This is a band which inspires a devotion so deep among fans that many danced during the sound check; attempting to jerk their bodies in time to the sporadic clanking, snapping and whispering emanating from the stage. Indeed the band has gained further notoriety of late, with new member Angela Seo being forced to defend the video for new album title track, ‘Dear God, I Hate Myself’, from negative press attention. Among their fans, however, the video – which sees Seo repeatedly inducing vomiting before culminating with her vomiting on Stewart – has been well received.

Early on in tonight’s set material is largely drawn from this album, with Seo playing keys beside Stewart on guitar in a dual attack. They are surrounded by an array of cymbals – each repeatedly smashed with such venom it is impossible to see how they don’t shatter – as well as an assortment of novelty percussion instruments. But no matter what instrument the pair have in hand – guitar, maraca or whistle – timing is key. Each song is a hundred shards intricately composed into a glittering whole, exploding only to reform moments later.

But - while Xiu Xiu are relentless in the exploration of their sound - a band based around such a distinctive voice is likely to find it hard to detached entirely from its past. No matter how the songs are arranged, it is Stewart’s voice which remains central. 'Sad Pony Guerrilla Girl', for example, is reworked this evening – louder, with crunchy, almost metal guitar – but with Stewart’s most delicate voice still at its heart the song is instantly recognisable. 'Fabulous Muscle' is also played through a temperamental Nintendo DS – prompting a slight break in proceedings for emergency repairs – but remains largely intact due to Stewart.

Fan favourite 'I Luv the Valley OH!' is thrown in late in the show, eliciting woops of delight from the 450 strong crowd, but the show was already a resounding success by then. Xiu Xiu remain one of the most compelling, quixotic, vulnerable, forward looking bands in operation today. A true spectacle.


The photographs that accompany this article were taken for Pennyblackmusic by Alan Taylor-Shearer.













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