“Drum machine way up,” local favourite Xiu Xiu requested of The Chapel’s sound technician last Sunday, two songs into their set. With or without cranked monitors, they were predictably noisy.

But the set was also impressively controlled, beginning and ending on two quieter notes, “Petite” and a stripped solo Jamie Stewart-only encore of “I Broke Up.” Over half the set was comprised of the pop-oriented and dancier tracks from Xiu Xiu’s recent tenth LP, FORGET (2017), out February 24 on Polyvinyl, and noticeably void of the more aggro and experimental highlights or confessions such as “The Call” and “Faith, Torn Apart.”

All improvisations were cued by Stewart, which was obvious from Shayna Dunkelman’s careful attention to the frontman, particularly at the start and end of phrases. It made you wonder if they practiced, too, with minimal talking. At one point, Stewart acknowledged Dunkelman’s “professionalism and adaptability” after he played a song out of order and “she just played along.” Even Stewart’s theatrics were carefully orchestrated though: at another point, he lost his maraca after throwing it behind him earlier in the set. (Here, the crowd was quick to help him relocate it.)

Although there was nothing jarring to it, the evening felt fulfilled: Dunkelman’s quick reaction smoothed the setlist blip (ie. Stewart could’ve kept quiet and no one would’ve known), her drum pounding and synth controls were virtuosic, and Stewart was wild when he had planned to be wild without being destructive. If anything, Dunkelman carried the show, executing her part with graceful precision; Stewart was the one who broke a sweat three songs in, the one who dropped the mic on that third or fourth song.

He could’ve done it again at the end, a mic drop, that is — the crowd was so thoroughly having it and content. With charged emotion that never quite broke the fourth wall, Xiu Xiu did it again.

Article by Joanna Jiang

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