In many ways, the Howard Assembly Room is an appropriate venue to stage an interpretation of the Twin Peaks soundtrack. Rather like the fictional town, the Howard Assembly Room has a dark past, spending time as a ‘dirty cinema’ for a period in the 70s. It’s now restored into its original form as a long, wood-panelled hall: a cavernous space, allowing sounds as quiet as a whisper to echo around it at will.
The band were originally commissioned by David Lynch – creator of the seminal early-90s TV show – to perform the work at an exhibition and retrospective co-curated by Lynch in Australia earlier this year.
Xiu Xiu’s version of the Twin Peaks soundtrack is not a scene-by-scene, blow-by-blow breakdown of the show, but instead adapts elements from the soundtrack and skews them through guitars, pianos, vibraphone, drums and synths.
Projected above the stage is a loop of three repeating Lynchian scenes – a rotating fan, slow motion pine trees, sunlight casting shadows in a hallway – which is enough to imagine Agent Cooper drinking coffee at the Great Northern or to picture some of the supernatural goings-on at the Black Lodge.
Opening with the slow, brooding Twin Peaks theme on grand piano, drums and vibraphone, the music quickly becomes dark and menacing. As the performance rolls on, Jamie Stewart’s deep, repeating tremolo guitar riffs create an atmosphere of trepidation and unease, punctuated by slow, rhumba-esque drum machine patterns and splashes of cymbals.
The three members of Xiu Xiu are all multi-instrumentalists, and to witness them play pretty much all of the instruments each is a delight. It’s also great to hear composer Angelo Badalamenti’s memorable pieces for the show being performed live, in particular the haunting “Harold’s Theme”, stripped back to a ghostly guitar and hushed piano.
As the tranquility subsides, any remaining air of calm is shattered by walls of sound: metallic synths, frenzied guitars, and the sight of Stewart working himself up into a sweat as he delivers twitching, frenzied vocalisations over pounding drums and cymbals.
Vibraphone player Shayna Dunkelman ends the performance with a reading from character Laura Palmer’s fictional diary – written, of course, before the character’s death (and before the events of Twin Peaks took place), leaving us with a glimpse of some of the dark secrets that come to the fore in Lynch’s drama.
Xiu Xiu’s performance successfully captures the drama and fear of the show, and even if you haven’t seen Twin Peaks, it was nevertheless an enjoyable evening of musical intrigue, weirdness and a looming sense of dread. Perfect.
Originally published by Independent Leeds.