Published May 14, 2012Dirty Beaches and Xiu Xiu may not have much immediately in common apart from their recent Record Store Day split single. Yet both groups utilized their own form of experimental pop music to mesmerize the audience at Lee's Palace.
Alex Zhang Hungtai of Dirty Beaches has frequently alternated his live presence. Originating as a one-man sample-based performer, he has at times expanded his band to include a drummer and saxophonist. On this occasion, Dirty Beaches took to the stage only accompanied by an additional guitarist. But with just a setup of dual guitar and sampler, the performance was still drenched in swashes of feedback and reverb, which provided ample opportunity for some improvisation.
Minimal tracks from Dirty Beaches' Badlands, such as "Sweet 17," were well suited for the shrill attack of two guitars, as the songs gave both musicians time to wander into their own inventive territory as tracks began to unfold. Dirty Beaches seemed confident in opting to skip many of his more mellow pop numbers in favour of material yet to be released. "Golden Desert Sun," for example, was transformed and manipulated into a Krautrock experiment featuring brief solos that morphed into noise. Even the most familiar songs and lyrics became jarring and alienating due to this lineup, meaning that as Dirty Beaches left the stage in front of a rattled crowd, he had fulfilled his intention.
Xiu Xiu's performance had everything one could hope for. There was unabridged passion, plenty of skill and heaps of improvisation. Jamie Stewart and Angela Seo appeared rather timid as the show began, but this observation was quickly botched by the end of the first song. The rather complex music of Xiu Xiu did not stop the audience from becoming engrossed in the performance, as their quiet songs simmered with drama, the band's sidesteps into noisy territory like with "Honeysuckle" acting as immediate crowd pleasers.
The emotions that pulsed in the air as Xiu Xiu fought through "Sad Pony Guerilla Girl" became the ultimate display of performers having conviction for their craft. The sincerity could only be matched by the absurd display of an encore that Xiu Xiu treated the audience to. Stewart violently launched himself across the stage screaming repetitive phrases, all the while wrapping the microphone cable around his neck in a very Morrissey-like fashion. His display was so vivid that it was hard to notice that there were few backing instruments throughout the encore. Performances this raw do not come predetermined.