It can be a gamble to go see a band like the xx play live. Their music is lovely, brooding and atmospheric, very calm and minimalist. So soothing even that when their self-titled debut was released, I used to put it on when I was going to sleep. Singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Smith deliver their words in breathy, hushed tones. Percussion is sparse and electronic. The last similar concert gamble I took was with Beach House - and while that was a nice performance, I found my mind wandering. I wouldn't spend money to do it again, as it was the kind of show that was about as rousing as putting the album on at home and just listening to it at a high volume. And while I was excited at the prospect of seeing the xx and bought my (surprisingly pricey at $45) tickets early, as the show neared, I began having doubts.
Hundred Waters opened the show, and proved to be a fitting pairing for the xx - girl with asymmetrical haircut, music with a sparse electronic heartbeat. Hundred Waters revealed itself to be a pleasant surprise, however, as the simple beats gave way to an impressive folk-tinged musicality in the complex vocal harmonies and keyboard work of Nicole Miglis.
The Uptown felt full during Hundred Waters, but fans worked to fill in all available gaps on the floor during the full 45-minute break between sets, as the smoke machine onstage churned out enough fog to make the venue dense, and appropriately moody.
Despite the overly long break, the band was greeted very warmly by the crowd, and opened with "Try", which with its siren-like screeches sounded very cool against the backdrop of sweeping, blinding white spotlights. The bass reverberated deeply, and the band looked great onstage. Masters of mood.
The band's lighting adds an important visual element to their live show, flashing white with the bass and percussion beat during 'Crystalised' and 'Shelter', and alternately beaming purple and yellow lasers between the balcony and stage. As the show moved on though, I became convinced that the visuals were not only important, but absolutely necessary, as the band's two releases are both full of songs that are very, well, similar
. The xx carved out a unique identity with its self-titled debut (which is no easy feat), but it was difficult after nearly an hour of watching them not to notice that well, the songs all are basically at the same tempo, feature similar guitarwork (gentle single-note plucking) and are all pretty much about romantic longing.
It was interesting that the song that got the warmest reception was "Intro", the two-minute opener to the band's debut (the band was received extremely well by the audience - really, if only all audiences were this kind to bands). Anyway, I would argue that it really is one of the best album intros there is - it is a fantastic mood-setter, and is a great example of how well this kind of minimalism can work. Like this show, though, it walks close to the edge of greatness, but just never quite makes it.
Heart Skipped a Beat