"Jeez, Jett, try not to pull a Dale Earnhardt on our ass!" I croak as the PHX's sultry, bi-lovin' speed-demoness skids around a corner toward the alt-music nightspot Modified Arts near Seventh Street and Roosevelt. "Plus there's po-po all around, and I've got an open bottle of Stoli in my friggin' lap."
"Don't be trippin', K-dawg," replies the PHX's Penélope Cruz, her boobs jiggling in a tight-ass V-neck blouse as she shifts the stick of her Miata into fifth (the Impala's in the garage, yo). "And don't be spillin' any vodka on my carpet. Anyway, we're almost there, and I don't wanna miss Xiu Xiu."
Xiu Xiu (pronounced "shoe-shoe") is a West Coast emo group made up mainly of this Oakland-based dude Jamie Stewart and whoever he happens to be playing with at the time. On this tour, it's a beautiful, versatile Seattle musician named Caralee McElroy. Jett's a fan of the group, though I only knew what I'd read and downloaded before the gig. At this moment, I'm mainly concerned that Modified is an all-ages venue that doesn't serve alkie-hall, which is why I'm pouring potato-juice into a small, emptied-out bottle of Arrowhead so we can swig unobtrusively while handling our biz. The sacrifices we make for our public!
We finally hit Modified, and Jett does an impromptu doughnut in the dirt parking lot before halting the Miata inches away from the wall of a nearby building. Both of us gargle a shot of hooch, then hop out of the car, flushed and ready, Jett's water bottle snugly in her tiny, Paris Hiltonesque purse. Outside the small brick structure that houses Modified, scores of kids are sitting on the sidewalk, smoking butts. Apparently, we've missed opening acts Jason Alexander, a.k.a. "Wolf Colonel," and trio Andrew Jackson Jihad. Thankfully, Xiu Xiu is still setting up.
Inside, there's an alcove with a candy/soda bar that leads into a performance space that looks as if it could hold 100 to 150 souls. There's art up all around, reminding us that Modified doubles as a gallery, and almost everyone present is young, some even of high school age, many in jeans, sneaks and tees. We corner the Mod's den mother, club-promoter, band-booker, and all-around cool chick Leslie Barton, and drag her outside for an interview.
"What are you guys doing here?" queries Barton, who's read this column before and knows our m.o. "I thought you two only hit the bar scene. Nobody's taking their shirts off in here, and there's no drunken revelry."
"Don't say that," exclaims the Jettster. "Kreme might run for the hills."
"Hey, our purview is all nightlife in the Valley of the Sun," I state for the record. "That's why our cards say, 'We own the night.'"
"They should say, 'Kreme owns a night-light,'" snarks the J-unit, shooting down my ego-filled dirigible. "To answer your question, we've been meaning to hit you guys for a long time, and since I'm into Xiu Xiu, we figured this was the right date to look you over."
"Okay, now let me ask you something, as a diehard dipsomaniac myself," I say to Barton, who's dressed like the English teacher you always wanted to make it with in junior high (glasses, short brown hair and an open red sweater worn over a tee shirt with an orange King Kong on it). "Why no John Barleycorn, chief?"
"Because then we wouldn't have all these great kids coming here to see bands and stuff," she responds. "Our demographics are like 15 to 50. But as weird as it sounds, we're doing it for the kids. Sometimes we have a hundred screaming 16-year-olds in there. It can get out of control, but we do have rules. No littering, no writing on the walls, no touching the art, and no drinking inside the club."
Jett gulps audibly, clutching her purse tightly: "Uh, so you'd probably 86 someone with booze, eh?"
"People learn to be polite here because they're not drunk," Barton tells us, ignoring the question. "It's more about the music."
Jett excuses herself for a moment, and Barton and I discuss the inevitable tensions that will arise when condos go up across from Modified on Roosevelt Street. Though Modified has been where it is longer (it's owned by Kimber Lanning, the proprietor of the Stinkweeds record stores), something tells me its halcyon days may be up as soon as residents move into those condos and start bitching about noise.
Barton's called inside as Jett stumbles back from around the corner, her face even more flushed than before. "What's the matter with you?" I ask.
"Had to lose the Stoli," she says, wiping her mouth. "So I drank it. Hic!"
"And didn't save any for me? What a lush! That's why we had it in the water bottle, ya dope."
"I had to act quickly," she slurs. "What if she suspected something, and we missed Xiu Xiu?"
J-Diddy's confession leaves me to pursue the rest of the evening sober, save for the occasional run out to the car for a swig of the leftover Stoli in the bottle we left behind on the back seat. Women!
Anyway, we then amble up to three li'l gals squatting against Modified's wall, Christalina, Chrissy and Candy. Cuter than Hello Kitty in triplicate, they're all creative types. Cristalina tells us she recently moved from Chi-town to P-town.
"Christalina, your name sounds like something snortable," I crack. "So why'd you move down here from R. Kelly's burg?"
"Well, I heard about the art scene down here, and I'm going to the Skin and Makeup Institute of Arizona in Peoria," explains the brown-haired babette, puffing on a ciggy. "I also do live art. I project these images and paint on nude models. I've been talking with some galleries about doing it here in Phoenix."
"You should paint on Kreme, he's got plenty of canvas to work with," burps my sidekick. "Think of his ass as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel."
"Let us know when you have a performance set up," I say, elbowing my uncouth comrade. "We'd love to cover it. How about you, Chrissy, what's your story?"
"I just moved out here from San Diego in January," explains the tanned brunette, sandwiched between Christalina and Candy. "San Diego's too expensive. I moved out here because it's cheaper."
"Do you paint on nekkid people, too?" asks Jett.
"No, I'm a hairdresser," she answers. "Not anywhere specific. I'm just freelancing around right now."
"And sweet, sweet Candy," I utter to the third C. "Must be tough to have that name. You probably get a lot of come-ons from guys."
"Nope," she says, shaking her head. "Not really."
"How do you spell it, with an 'i' or a 'y'?"
"With a 'y' or an 'i,'" she grins coquettishly. "Depending on what you want."
The other girls laugh, while Jett looks disgusted. "Oh, brother," I hear her mutter between hiccups.
"I love your skirt," I comment, referring to a blue-green-white polka-dot pattern on black she's wearing. "I hear polka dots are returning with a vengeance."
"Yeah, the whole mod thing is in," she giggles. "Like my boyfriend, he has a Vespa."
"Are you into fashion, too?" wonders Jett.
"Yes, I want to go to school for fashion, at the Art Institute in San Francisco," she declares. "I've already been accepted."
About this time, we hear Xiu Xiu starting up, so we all pile into Modified to watch this mellifluous pair play moody tunes from their latest critically acclaimed CD Fabulous Muscles. The audience hangs on every note as Stewart and McElroy go from soft, pretty sounds to jarring, vicious shrieks, using a wide variety of instruments in the process. No wonder they have such a diehard following of fans nationwide.
After the set, the Jettster and I wait for the pair to sign all their autographs and break down their own instruments. No roadies, alas, which explains why Stewart has such well-sculpted biceps. As soon as Stewart's finished, he leaves behind McElroy, who dislikes giving interviews, and leads us into the small band room to the side of the stage where we all have a seat on the couch.
"Does your band's name come from that Chinese movie?" I ask, this being my first experience with them.
"That's correct, Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl," Stewart acknowledges. "Cory McCulloch started the band with me, but doesn't tour anymore, though we still record together. We both had seen the film independently, and at the time, our lives were total disasters. Although none of the specific bad things that happened to her were happening to us, the protagonist was handling things in a really desperate and unconstructive way, and we were both kind of blindly trying to get through stuff, which ended up having really negative results. So we felt some parallels with the circumstances in the movie."
"How many different instruments do you use onstage?" queries Jett.
"Whew, I don't know, a lot," Stewart chuckles. "I think 10 or 12 now. But we're starting to max out the limits of our tour car."
"Is your overall sound always changing, moving forward?" I ask.
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"Hopefully we are. We definitely try not to repeat ourselves. But the influences that we're pulling together for this band, and the motivation for it, we're trying to keep at a constant."
"And what's that motivation?"
"You had to ask! So here it comes: My dad was a musician, and when I started to get really serious about music, he asked me, 'Do you know why you want to get serious about music?' I didn't know what to say, so he said, 'The point about getting serious about music is to try to touch people.' I don't know if we're necessarily successful at that. But we want to potentially do something that will be meaningful to someone else. After all, a lot of other bands have already done the same for us."