“The music of Twin Peaks is everything that we aspire to as musicians and is everything that we want to listen to as music fans. It is romantic, it is terrifying, it is beautiful, it is unnervingly sexual.”
Those are the words of Xiu Xiu, a California-based experimental noise group helmed by singer-songwriter Jamie Stewart. The band is currently touring in support of Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, their 12-track reinterpretation of the iconic David Lynch/Angelo Badalamenti score. I was there last night when the trio played those tracks at The Kitchen in New York City. From the depths of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, Xiu Xiu used the experimental arts space to realize their own vision of the Twin Peaks sound.
“There is no way that we can recreate Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch’s music as it was originally played,” said Xiu Xiu via the show’s liner notes. “It is too perfect and we could never do its replication justice. Our attempt will be to play the parts of the songs as written—meaning, following the harmony melody but to arrange in the way that it has shaped us as players.”
Their attempt was successful, to say the least. Over the course of 90 minutes, Xiu Xiu invoked the Twin Peaks spirit—its beauty, its violence, its romanticism, its terrifying catharsis—and, with layers of their own noisy patois, they flung it forcibly throughout the room.
A small crowd gathered in the venue’s atrium before the show. Slate cement walls enclosed the space, offering all the comforts of a prison cell. When the doors opened, we walked into a small performance space that was just as austere. 100 black seats sat on terraced risers on black floors. Black curtains hung heavily from iron rods. The band’s instruments, too—laid out and unoccupied upon our arrival—matched the mood. Black drums, a black guitar, black amps, and a stainless steel keyboard and vibraphone were spread across the floor, along with a bevy of pedals, effects, and other sonic apparatuses.
Behind the instruments hung a screen that was used to project images from Twin Peaks. They were usually brief, eerie sequences that added to the tension of the performance. The night began with a shot from the bottom of the stairs at the Palmer residence. As the ceiling fan whirred from the second floor, Stewart’s bandmate, Angela Seo, walked on-stage and pressed a button on a midi controller, launching an ominous beat that resounded throughout the room.
The rest of the band soon joined her and morphed the rhythm into “Laura Palmer’s Theme.” Stewart began the night on drums, with Seo on keys and fellow Xiu Xiu member, Shayna Dunkelman, on vibes. They shared instrumental duties throughout the performance. At times, all three perched behind effects pedals and mixers to unleash electronics that were grating and restive. But, in true Twin Peaks fashion, they were not without their warmth.
Balancing the various emotions of the score was both Xiu Xiu’s greatest challenge and their greatest triumph. The band was constantly negotiating variations of darkness and light, violence and communion, madness and clarity. With an acute sense of tension, Xiu Xiu conveyed each shade of the Twin Peaks mania.
Some of that success can be attributed to their commitment to character. Xiu Xiu never once addressed the audience, instead maintaining their caricature of the Twin Peaks ethos. With each signal of change in the music, for instance, Stewart lurched with exaggerated affect. Dunkelman, too, got into the theatrics, imitating the waddle of the dream man in “Dance of the Dream Man.” It was off-putting in a way that any honest Twin Peaks reimagining must be.
Howling vocals and a smattering of one-off instruments—e.g. kazoos, shakers, bells, maracas—all added to the neurosis. When the trio eventually left the stage, the same ominous beat from the outset was left pounding throughout the room, like the Twin Peaks heartbeat that’s been thrumming for 25 years. Questions unresolved. Beloved characters left hanging in the balance. And as the beat lingered, we all sat there wondering the same thing: “Is it really over?”
It’s so nice to know that’s it’s not. Last night, for the first time, the Twin Peaks return felt real. Xiu Xiu gave me my first taste of the intrigue that will ensue next year when the show returns for its third season. I left The Kitchen sated, and yet, at the same time, utterly ravenous. Like Dale Cooper and his cherry pie, like Bob and his insatiable demonism, like the love between Log and Log Lady: I just want more.
2017 can’t come soon enough. Fire walk with me.
IMAGES: Joan Chen/MacEagon Voyce