Xiu Xiu | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Though it seems like lots of first albums go on record as their creators' best, I think most bands worth their salt take significantly longer to peak. But if this west-coast group--whose recent A Promise (5 Rue Christine) is only their second full-length--have much higher to climb to reach the top of their game, I'm scared. From the beginning, they've expertly set off front man Jamie Stewart's on-the-edge emotional desperation with jarringly playful sonic experiments, constructing environments where his tremulous whispers and fluttery mutterings can feel, however briefly, cathartic. Each song on A Promise maintains that crucial tension, from "Sad Pony Guerrilla Girl," where synths chirp like birds heralding a guilty morning behind Stewart's gender-bent tale of adultery and paranoia, to a cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car," where the way Stewart modulates from practically inaudible to disconcertingly loud over a delicate interpretation of the guitar chords conveys layers of angst the wistful original doesn't even hint at. The arrangements never indulge Stewart's wallowing--they poke and prickle him like a chipper neighbor. The band's bag of tricks includes an array of extensively preprogrammed electronics; the theft of their equipment in Montana this past spring forced them to cancel the rest of their originally scheduled tour, including a show at the Fireside Bowl. This is the rain check. Sunday, July 6, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.

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