C'MON, Get Mopey
Xiu Xiu are your 24 Hour Arty People.
BY ELIZABETH DYE
Xiu Xiu makes pretty business of some pretty sad shit. Taking its name (pronounced "shoe shoe") from Joan Chen's dark-and-darker film Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl, the band draws on intimate tragedies--family deaths, the addictions and perversions of friends and loved ones--to produce sparse, tightly wound songs larded with specific names and gory details.
"The whole point of Xiu Xiu is to make music that's as honest as possible," says vocalist Jamie Stewart, who's shedding the other four members of the band for this tour to play solo because all their equipment was recently stolen. "It came out of going to dance clubs by myself where it can feel very euphoric and happy for a moment, and then it can be so depressing and lonely. You see all these people trying so hard to feel better about things in this artificial setting." Although Xiu Xiu uses words like "dance" and "pop" to describe its stuff, you won't find any of those head-bobbing hooks and rock guitar leads that made the Smiths' downer anthems into disco hits. Even the band's oft-cited influences--Joy Division, Sabbath--sound like boy bands in comparison. On the band's second album, A Promise , Stewart's anxious warbles sound a repeated note of grief, dogged by faint, awkward guitar, blasts of synth and the occasional clang of gongs and bells. Somehow, a whispered cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" folds right in. "That song had a tremendous influence on me lyrically," says Stewart, "taking a very specific narrative about desperation, about trying over and over to make things turn out, knowing from the start that they won't."
In terms of transforming human horrors into art, Xiu Xiu can out-Belle & Sebastian Belle & Sebastian any day. But unlike the songs of B&S and the rest of the emo dragonslayers, Xiu Xiu's nightmares make it to tape undomesticated. Chopped apart by the wash of noises and pauses, the pain doesn't so much curl up in your lap as punch you in the throat. "I experience extended periods of discomfort in my day-to-day life," explains Stewart; as a listener, you're forced to share them. But there's a silver lining here, if nowhere else in Xiu Xiu's gloom opera. Also happily absent is that wussy whining that makes you want to strangle other bands working in the "feel me" genre. At its best, Xiu Xiu's grimace-and-bear-it rage feels risky and, if this word means anything anymore, real.
The Good Foot
Cesaria Evora, down-home diva, reporting for duty.
BY KAI HSING
Every once in a while, a shooting star lands on earth and begins life anew as a fully licensed diva. It happens only a handful of times each generation. You know their names: Billie. Edith. Christina...well, maybe not.
Cesaria Evora traveled a different path than most. Evora's brilliance didn't register on the musical telescope until fairly late in her life, at age 47. She returned to the stage in her native Cape Verde Islands (a former Portuguese colony located off the western coast of Africa) after taking a long hiatus to raise a family. Reports of this newfound phenomenon spread quickly, and she was invited to record some demos in Lisbon. These efforts then resulted in a deal in France and her first record, 1988's La Diva Aux Pieds Nus, which translates to "barefoot diva" and refers to her habit of performing shoeless.
Going au naturel down below makes perfect sense; she's a relaxed, simple performer. On her recently released DVD, Live in Paris, Evora lets her music speak for itself. Unlike other divas who seem embroiled in celebrity and all the trappings, Evora seems completely unfazed by all the attention and respect she commands, even though she has more than 4 million in record sales, five Grammy nominations and several gold records in her handbag. Despite her fame and collaborations with such luminaries as Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso, Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés and Bonnie Raitt, she is still singing simply and expressing her version of melancholy tinged with hope.
Evora's Cape Verdean musical styles combine blues-inflected traditional Portuguese melody with African and Brazilian rhythms, soaked with gentle ocean tides and cognac. Evora's delivery is powerful but vulnerable and exposes her underlying emotions. As her band veers in different directions with its screeching horns and bouncing piano lines, Evora's soothing presence keeps it all together; she floats in the delicate, star-filled night.
7 pm Wednesday, June 25 Aladdin Theater, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave., 233-1994 $38.50 advance, $40 door All ages
MUSIC NEWS & ... WELL, WHATEVER
HISS and VINEGAR
Portland's world-famous Rock and Roll Camp for Girls ended its 2003 session with a sold-out showcase at the Aladdin Theater on Saturday night. Wannabe camper Caryn B. Brooks reports: If people were smiling any harder, their cheeks would have eclipsed their eyes. The weeklong camp, which hosts young women 8-18, starts out with the mess of them breaking into groups and becoming bands, with an eye on performing one song at the showcase. Twenty-three acts, with names such as DJ Vertically Challenged, Ode to Go-Cart and The Freckles, took the stage in front of the packed room. Sure, the whole thing was awfully cute--some girls were so small they could hardly be seen behind the drum kit--but that's beside the point. The stage is a platform, and a platform is power. What was most impressive was that these girls--whether belting out the Go-Go's (nice rendition of "Our Lips Are Sealed" by the band Drawing a Blank) or writing their own songs (Beware!'s he-done-me-wrong-song was the Shirelles meet Velvet Underground)--seemed more comfortable on stage than they might on the playground. After the show, when one grade schooler was complimented on her participation in a press-release writing workshop, she replied, "I'm very [makes quote marks in the air with her fingers] media literate." Indeed.
GENE SIMMONS' TRANSPARENT CAMPAIGN TO BUY HIS WAY INTO HEAVEN INCHES FORWARD
The much-ballyhooed reunion of Portland glam-metal flag-bearers Black 'N Blue, whose spazztacular Reaganomic mops of peroxide-blasted fizz adorned these pages two weeks back, was a shrieking success by all accounts. The best news out of this affair du hair hosted by KISS badman Gene Simmons? The show's Worthy Cause, a fund aiding a BNB member's bro who's afflicted with Lou Gehrig's disease, scored a reported $32,000. Simmons has still not done enough good to offset his involvement in Tongue magazine, however.
PICKATHON PICKS UP STEAM
Last week, we neglected to mention the CD-release show for a new compilation from Pickathon, the annual folk/old time/bluegrass/etc. festival benefiting KBOO. As a result, our so-called music editor has been savagely disciplined. Let's just say the drive chain from an old Harley was involved. Meanwhile, this year's Pickathon unfurls its two days of cutting-edge roots music in the bucolic splendor of Horning's Hideout on Aug. 22-23. Tix are $25 if purchased before July 15; see www.pickathon.com for more.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS (A BLATANTLY SELF-PROMOTIONAL ITEM)
As of the day this newspaper hits the streets, only 70 days and change remain before MUSICFEST NORTHWEST 2003, the world's largest music festival bar some, sponsored by Willamette Week. We are wading through the nearly 1,000 band applications we received for the Sept. 4-6 festival, and we'll be announcing our schedule ("Subject to Change Since 2001") around Independence Day.