Xiu Xiu / Frog Eyes / Das Yellow Swans The Gladstone Ballroom, Toronto ON - September 8, 2005

Sometimes the west really is the best, like when they bring a killer triple-bill of their finest acts to remind us that the craft of the written song is still very much alive, as San Jose, CA's Xiu Xiu and Victoria, BC's Frog Eyes demonstrated. But first, to free our minds and clean out our third ear canals, the increasingly prolific Das Yellow Swans (the D always stands for something different - Dreamed, Damaged, Duh, etc.), a noise duo from Portland, OR, made their highly anticipated Toronto debut by playing out a pair of mystically hallucinatory tracks, the first serenely featuring the captivating vocals of a female friend and the second pulling out all the stops to unleash reverberating walls of guitar feedback, thudding beats and noise manipulation that were so loud you couldn't even make out the Swans' shrieking vocals. Frog Eyes unfurled a suitably high-energy set that rolled with masterful lyricist Carey Mercer's tortured punches of vocal theatrics and unhinged guitar. You'd think Mercer might careen right into the maniacal deep end if he weren't kept so grounded by his apt group, which lay down marching drum lines and off-kilter rhythmic intensity for him to do his graceful, shaken death's dance all over. The unisex duo of Xiu Xiu then performed a blazing, crowd-friendly set that contrasted with the soft essences they often explore in concert (and on their latest album, La Foret) by busting out the unpredictable electro beats, tortured screams of emotional torment, thunderous percussion and engaging multi-instrumentation that makes their work so vital and original. It was a magnificent reminder that moving and innovative songwriting is as alive and kicking as ever.