In 2015, the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Australia commissioned experimental pioneers Xiu Xiu to cover Twin Peaks soundtrack for an exhibition on David Lynch. The band released these covers as an album, Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, this year on Record Store Day, with a wider release in August. These covers made the band a perfect fit for the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA)’s fifth annual Lynch-themed “Eraserhood Forever” event, leading to the band doing a rare live performance of the material. The event was so popular that the early show sold out almost instantly. A second late performance was added, and sold out quickly as well.
Local comedian Paul Triggiani, hosting the event as “Ben Velvet” (a convincing send-up of Harry Dean Stanton’s character Ben from Blue Velvet), started the night with a lip-synched version of Roy Orbison’s “Candy Colored Clown” and returned later to lead a Lynch-themed trivia contest. Brooklyn-based “non-country” musician Dougie Poole then opened with an all-too-brief four-song solo set. A merch table sold Twin Peaks-themed coffee and donut and cherry pie cupcakes along with the usual CDs and posters.
But the main attraction, of course, was Xiu Xiu. Joined by his long-time collaborator Angela Seo on keyboards and percussionist Shayna Dunkelman, frontman Jamie Stewart played through a reading of Angelo Badalamenti’s score which remained faithful to the spirit of the music even when it sometimes diverged significantly from it. Opening with a version of “Laura Palmer’s Theme” featuring Seo on piano, the group set the mood in the dimly lit room. While the performance was not as experimental and audience challenging as some of the band’s original work, it remained uncompromising and dynamic, ranging from quiet piano to washes of noise. The highlights of the night were the several vocal tracks, “Into the Night,” “Falling,” and “Sycamore Trees” – while Stewart’s deep, soaring voice is about as far as it’s possible to get from Julee Cruise’s delicate vocals (ranging closer to Jimmy Scott’s vocals on the latter), it fit with in with the arrangements of the songs naturally. The band closed the night with “Josie’s Past,” a track from The Twin Peaks Archive, featuring Dunkelman reading from the book The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and a brief, frenetic rendition of “Mairzy Doats” (as sung in the series by a distraught Leland Palmer) by Stewart. Covering an entire soundtrack, especially one as beloved by fans as Badalmenti’s work for Twin Peaks is a daunting task, but Xiu Xiu managed to pull it off successfully, while adding their own twisted take on it.