Live Review:The XX ([Director’s Cut]
January 11, 2010, 3:32 am
Filed under: Live Reviews | Tags: , , ,

The Speakeasy, 15 December 2009

Right now in the grips of early winter’s future-obscuring spell, in the Speakeasy a surprisingly swollen crowd convene, battling the freeze to experience The XX live, indisputably one of 2009’s It bands. As best as they can the lovers-strewn congregation shelters in the embrace of the combo’s debut, its private, yearning mystique all the more enchanting when prettily lit and made flesh by its now three-dimensional authors. The last pixel of May sunshine is extinguished from our mind-photo and the glow of less inhospitable times is made an ethereous memory. If ever there was a winter band the XX are that band.

Live, just as if we are at home under the covers, the measured caresses, made light-footed by skeletal R’n’B/Micro-House dynamics, are immersive. The economy and understatement that the combo traffic in is very much something to cherish in this day and age. It takes a certain kind of self-belief to purge your pop of pomp and flash and harder still is it to make the music as addictive and persuasive as they have, without relying on trite hooks and pulse-racing crescendos. Have no doubts though – this is still pop music, just a type that has become rare these days; an edgy, unfussy, naked and considered kind that holds fast to a personal vision, with not a single moment pushed on us for empty effect or a single song that entertains a rash, incongruous passage which might undermine the core premise of the song.

With both their voices sounding gorgeous and true, Romy Madely-Croft and Oliver Sim’s hive-mind murmurs pillow talk to an unnamed third-party, that faceless interloper to whom their binary ruminations are addressing throughout XX. In steady procession they draw evenly from their uniformly perfect suite of bedsit-noir confections with apparently no wish to interact with the crowd, short of Oliver’s apologies, – presented in the voice of a sedated Barry White – for the sometimes soupy sound or for the possibility that they’ll botch b-side ‘Do You Mind’. Romy looks at the front rows tiredly while the talismanic Jamie Smith is just too busy filling for the dearly departed Baria Qureshi to even look up from his panel of toys. Though they were never going to be the band that quips or amps up the crowd, the subdued performance renders the gig a mite too much like a sitting or a recital, rather than a show. Often the songs kind of just lie there after deployment, like an open book.

Yet, it’s churlish to begrudge a faithful run-through. The puritanically retrained, almost contrary tracks were never intended for taking flight for the Big Finish, that ejaculation of crowd-pleasing opulence. And for the most part, the tracks are played with a conviction and passionate intent that must be difficult to muster at the back end of a long headline tour, so if the performance is muted its of little consequence.

Whilst not all of the spooky, bewitching charm of their debut is preserved, it’s such an incisive expression of the stillness of witching hour London, a strikingly original record birthed under the hum of sodium-emitting streetlights, that it withstands the ravages of a shuffling, live venue, almost. Almost, if not for an irreverent minority.

Somewhere in their minimalist L.P (though there isn’t very many places it can hide) a tenuous sense of space and time is moored. Teased into a precarious existence, this tiny kernal of aural ephemera, sometimes no more than an idea in the listener’s head but which is central to the band’s magic and air of modernity, is pervious to even the minutest change of environment. Tonight, that bubble-delicate magic competes with a ceaseless chatter courtesy of a small yet effectual percentage of saloon-rowdy shits, mostly dwelling at the back of the room, seemingly at a totally different event and extolling the psychedelic properties of Kasabian’s latest album, or something equally as asinine.

Whatever it is that’s so important that it couldn’t be divulged at the Pothouse’s depressing w*nker-disco, the din provides a distracting bed to the songs’ pauses and voids, like the band are playing above a municipal swimming pool at peak time. Thusly, we’re denied the out-of-body experience wished for. It’s these digestible guitar-inclusive adaptations of inner city trends you see, them casual Indie-fans go crazy for it (you know the type, labouring under the assumption the genre began with Hot Fuss). Elitist you say? Yes, maybe. Call us old fashioned, but the accepted wisdom is that soft songs were not written so they could be jabbered over by the human equivalent of a Nuts Biggest B*obs In Britain double-edition. Just about detectable above the shuffling crowd is the act’s Dubstep-esque skill for interring kinetic energy in a hermetic seal, compressing human emotion (and often in the XX’s case, sexual longing) under a membrane of oppressive urban psycho-geography.

If the more intangible elements of their aesthetic perish, the basics remain. The great song-writing and catchy melodies flourish in spite of the prevailing thrum. Beginning, appropriately, with ‘Intro’, our appetites are whetted despite an overbearing low end, which is followed by ‘VCR’, sucking us deeper into the abyss. ‘Islands’ and ‘Heart Skipped A Beat’ retain their time-slowing, incubating power and ‘Shelter’, both sterile and lush, suggestive but naïve, is a highlight and worth the cost of admission alone, provoking a generous round of applause.

Consisting of the likes of ‘Basic Space’, ‘Infinity’ and the amazing ‘Fantasy’, a more lively (and crucially louder) second act keeps the Keiser chiefs fan club from inanely tweeting on their I-phones or yapping obliviously at the top of their voices. Romy’s ionised picking provides subtle shading and delicate filigree over Oliver’s stern-sounding bass, with the feline, geezer-chic 20-year-old draped in gold necklaces and sporting the classic garb of a Nineties D’n’B pioneer: a black polo neck. They finish with Oliver smashing a rhythm into Jamie’s cymbal and depart for their next appointment via their delectable reformulation of Florence And The Machine’s pish version of club-classic “You’ve Got The Love”. Good bye kids, hurry back. Now back to those headphones and the cover of darkness. John Calvert


Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: