Wednesday 4 July 2012

Review: XXL + Zea

I was pretty excited about this show. A part of Xiu Xiu performing, a part of the Ex (previous review of their last Marie Antoinette gig here) performing, what could go wrong? So I headed to Marie Antoinette with quite high expectations that in the end didn't get disappointed but also weren't fully met.

I have been to a few Marie Antoinette shows and every time something was different. This time again, the stage was located facing towards the windows in the middle of the room. Everything looked very professional with nice curtains and lights. Nonetheless, Marie Antoinette isn't uncomfortable at all and I would say it's definitely part of the circle of Berlin venues with the best view (definitely counting Monarch and bei Roy into that as well). Where else do you see the Spree at eye level with ships going by and everything?

Zea is the solo project of Arnold de Boer who replaced the former co-founder lead singer of the Ex in 2009. This night he performed all on his own with just a guitar and a sampling rhythm machine. He played an interesting mix of genres, some songs sounded a bit like weird hip hop beats and some songs were more straight forward electro indie punk. Like they also do in the Ex, his rhythms often sounded unconventional and reminded me of polyrhythmical African drumming, he also played one song based on an Ethiopian song. He somehow managed to get quite a few people dancing a bit but it didn't really work for me overall. Some songs had really interesting moments and parts but then I found other songs totally uninteresting and just too electro punk somehow.

After a bit of carrying stuff on stage and doing soundcheck, XXL started to play. XXL is a collaborative project of Xiu Xiu (or nowadays just of Jamie Stewart) and the Italian band Larsen. They released records in 2005 and 2007 and are now on tour presenting their newest output. I've been a follower of mostly everything Jamie Stewart / Xiu Xiu is doing since quite a long time. I saw them live many times and never got disappointed. They always have been a band to me that perfectly managed to combine experimental and unusual sounds and songs with perfect pop songs hidden deep inside (or sometimes not even that deep inside since their latest records are in fact way poppier than earlier ones). I also really liked the first two XXL records because they were an awesome combination of what Xiu Xiu did, meaning to play fragile and subtle songs, with what Larsen did, playing overflowing and atmospherical calm post rock.
They manged to capture that pretty well live on stage. Despite the fact that there were five people on stage, it all sounded very homogeneous and consistent and I wondered how they were able to be that well-rehearsed, considering the fact that they live in different countries. Also the sound was really good, which added to Marie Antoinette's professional attitude.
I think the only thing that somehow lowered my excitement was the fact that they played many, many epic instrumental pieces. I think they only really played two songs with vocals, the rest of the set was dominated by experimental and sometimes very noisy post rock songs. Not that there's anything generally wrong with that, I just expected, or rather hoped for, more of the older songs with lyrics and vocals. Sometimes what they played was just too "rock" for me. But after all this was a nice concert and I'm pretty sure it wasn't the last time I saw Xiu Xiu/Jamie Stewart live.

Also if you want to get an impression of how they look and sound live, here's a video which a friend of mine who put up an XXL show in Trier just the day before the Berlin show uploaded. It's the first song of their first record called Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw Paw and it was awesome live. Be sure to check it out:

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