At last year's CMJ I caught an underwhelming set by The xx. At the time, I wasn't sure if the young band wasn't quite ready to be playing shows for an overly expectant audience, or if their spacious, dreamy, and lackadaisical tunes weren't meant to be taken out.
The show put me off the group for some time, but a New Yorker piece that shared my feelings about the problematic show made me take another look. This time I did it right: with headphones and melancholy. It finally made sense.
The mood was somewhere below mopey, as if musicians lost in the folds of their introversion were unable to see the people standing in front of them. Was the band in the same room with us or were they avatars manipulated from London? I left, unexpectedly cross. Months later, when I took my friends’ advice and listened to the band’s album, I realized that I had missed the entire point.
The songs on “xx” are as intimate as pop gets, and, now that I’ve fallen for the music, it makes complete sense that it baffled me live. These are songs to be sung inches from someone’s ear, preferably with the lights off. The music is all closeups, and transferring it to a big, unfriendly space would just strand the gestures. I am impressed that the band has been able to convert so many people with their live shows, because the songs on the album feel to me like the love letters of Tamina in Milan Kundera’s “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”—letters that were so intimate that what gave them their “meaning and worth” was that they were intended “for her alone.”
Since the second half of 2009 after The xx popped the group have been touring steadily, and perhaps patched a few holes in the experience. Or at least, so says our sister blog, The Stranger's Line Out, who caught the trio last night:
The xx had their own reputation to overcome as well, that of a muted, introverted live band, the kind that might have trouble holding a venue that size at rapt attention. So two wins for last nights show, then: It was the first show I've seen at the Showbox SoDo where everything sounded great everywhere in the venue*, from the front of the stage on back to the beer pen, and the xx, as I saw at SXSW and suggested in this week's Stranger Suggests have their live game tight, commanding the crowd with minimal fuss, just letting their spare seductive songs speak for themselves.
The xx play Wednesday at the Crystal Ballroom.