After releasing their debut album to massive critical acclaim, including a Mercury Music Prize for their mantelpiece, The xx had a lot to live up to with their sophomore effort ‘Coexist’. Thankfully it was a brilliantly executed follow-up and led to their latest UK tour which began on a bitterly cold night in Leeds.
Following a cross Pennine journey we were welcomed by Mmoths. Seemingly unheard of by most of the crowd tonight, the Irish producer has been lauded by many, including one Flying Lotus, who have heard his ethereal sonics. He took the stage with a couple of friends and began to fill the cavernous Leeds Academy with the emotional ambient soundscapes for which he is known. The drums injected some energy but a lot of the tracks garnered nothing but a light sway from the audience. A definite spectacle for those appreciating such things, but perhaps a bridge too far for warming up this largely ‘Xfm’ crowd.
In between the acts a large curtain descended, prompting all manner of speculation as to what could be going on behind – surely just a ploy to spark our inate curiosity? Alas the band’s set commenced with a projection onto the curtain, moving blobs of paint transformed into face-like shapes and back again. The crowd cheered as spotlights pinpointed our 3 heroes and the opening to ‘Angels’ rang out.
I often feel The xx’s albums have a very intimate sound and I had doubts as to whether this could translate well into The xx live set in a large space. These doubts quickly crumbled in the opening number, where Romy’s voice sounded as crisp and haunting as it does on record.
Following the opening the band made their way through an 18 song set which covered the majority of their material. The set was kept interesting by many changes and reworks – a slowed, stripped-down version of ‘Crystallised’ gave new life to an overplayed track whereas ‘Shelter’ was subjected to an energetic, electronic injection with a 4/4 beat – reflecting the band’s wide range of influences and keeping toes tapping.
Throughout the gig, percussionist and producer Jamie bounced around an array of engineering equipment and instruments, crafting a performance of near sonic perfection. He plays keys, hits percussion pads and tweaks various knobs and sliders. No matter how much charisma and charm exudes from the front two, it’s clear this man is the engine room here.
The visuals were inspired too, with each song receiving a bespoke lashing of lights and projections. Strobes were timed with musical crescendos and peaks to create a sensory overload before rushing back to the dark and the quiet. During the last (pre-encore) song, ‘Infinity’, a curtain at the back of the stage, which had lay dormant, rose to reveal a huge ‘X’ which was filled with smoke and projected upon to create a vision of the iridescence on the latest album cover (and inspiration for the ‘Coexist’ title).
The xx have stepped up from being a one-off anomaly to superstars. They are poised to continue their rise to bigger and better things, starting in 2013 with an intimate residency at the Manchester International Festival in July and curating their own festival with 3 European dates confirmed, I would highly recommend you catch them.
More information at thexx.info
words & photos Gary Brown