If you were walking through the Railyard last night, it’s very likely that you heard an amplified voice that could conjure the dead. Mark Lanegan wasn’t in town (maybe we can make that happen sometime). The deep smokey voice was that of XIXA co-vocalist Gabriel Sullivan. XIXA was in town from Tuscon to help kick off the 2016 edition of the AHA Festival.
Due to a last minute venue change, the concert found its home within the spacious walls of El Museo Cultural. A makeshift stage sat in the far left corner of the room. Christmas lights wrapped around a pillar and some tables, provided much of the light. Lined upon two of the walls were giant Alice in Wonderland playing cards, standing no less than 8 feet tall. As opener Thieves & Gypsys ripped through their energetic set, the crowd quickly grew. The atmosphere was much like that of a DIY warehouse party.
When the members XIXA took the stage sometime around 10pm, it felt as though the space had transformed. Masked under a red hue, they took the stage in matching outfits within a cloud of fog machine smoke as pre-programmed whispers of the band’s name echoed through the speakers. Stacking pummeling percussion and big crunchy guitars upon the latin grooves of cumbia, they quickly erupted into their album’s title track with flawless execution. Though a relatively new band, the impressive backgrounds of the members was on full display within their stadium-worthy presence.
Pushing their cumbia and psych rock influences into overdrive was the sheer power of the kind of ’70s hard rock when John Bonham’s drums exploded like thunder. XIXA’s songs are much more than a sampler of a variety of musical styles. Through an obvious passion and understanding of their eclectic tastes, they’ve done the chemistry necessary to mix the ingredients into something entirely unique to them. The latin rhythms, soaring guitars, smokey vocals, pounding beats, and swirling farfisa-like keys are all continuous characteristics of the XIXA sound.
Amidst a slew of covers drawn from the history of “chicha” music (Peruvian cumbia) as found on the influential The Roots of Chicha compilation were a pair of covers originally made famous by Nirvana during their legendary Unplugged set. The Tuscon sextet didn’t just seek to replicate the Meat Puppets’ “Plateau” and Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World,” they transformed them into XIXA songs equipped with cumbia rhythms and those biting desert psych rock guitars. Anyone can cover a tune, but few can make a classic their own.
Although the covers were standouts of the set, they did not overshadow XIXA’s own songs from their debut album Bloodline, released earlier this year. In front of an audience that was likely most unfamiliar with their music, it seemingly took only seconds for the band to grab hold of their crowd with incredible might. That hold lasted for the entirely of the set which also included a brief intermission to sing Happy Birthday to drummer Winston Watson.
XIXA is a band ready to take over the world. It’s only a matter of time. But if the reaction of the crowd last night was any indication, the world may also be ready to embrace the psych rock cumbia force that is XIXA.