Wed, July 25th
The Showbox at the Market
The good news>"/>
Wed, July 25th
The Showbox at the Market
The good news about the new xx songs is that they still sound like the xx--which may also be the bad news. It's the problem of having such a singularly focused and signature sound, especially one as minimal as the UK electro-indie trio's: your songs can start to sound sort of one-note (or at least one-string on some of Romy Madley Croft's guitar leads). By the time the band launched into the encore of their first Seattle show in almost two years with "Intro," the steam-building instrumental opener of their self-titled 2009 debut, a girl standing near me remarked, "Didn't they already play this one--twice?" (In fairness, that album does seem to repeat melodic figures and themes throughout, part of what gives it such stunning cohesion.) So the differences in the new songs--from forthcoming sophomore album Coexist, such as lead single "Angels"--were minute, but the xx's entire project is about speaking great volumes with the smallest moves, the least fuss, possible. Every note and beat of every song is essential; everything else is sloughed off--like the possibly Buddhist aphorism about saying little but having each rare word be meaningful--so even minor changes in the band's sound scan as hugely important shifts.
The early word on Coexist, before it even had a title, was that it was going to be a more electronic record, informed by Jamie Smith's growing prowess as a producer and remixer both of his own work and of such disparate but influential names as Gil-Scott Heron and Adele. And there was a dance beat beneath a couple of the new songs, but it was hardly drawn from the dubstep or bass music realms you'd expect; rather, it was the steady pulse--and pounding piano chords--of classic house music. Still, these were accents, brought in and out of tracks for emphasis rather than driving them outright--you'd never mistake these guys for Derrick May or anything. The other notable change was in Croft's guitar playing. The new songs give her a few moments to really relatively shred--we're talking ALL SIX STRINGS here--and she more than handles it, ruling the stage with some still typically echoing guitar riffs. Again, though, lest you think house beats and big guitar parts mean some new-found maximalism, these parts were deployed sparingly, and they landed with all the more emphasis and impact because of it.
The xx know a bit about the power of absence, of space and anticipation, so no surprise that they only unloaded a handful of new songs, and those mostly--with the exception of an ultra-minimalist version of show/Coexist opener "Angels"--towards the back half of their set. They played "Fiction" ("fiction, when we're not together"), Oliver Sims shedding his bass guitar to just sing and trigger sample pads, Smith providing that pulse and piano, Sims and Croft playing off each other towards the end, drawing out the timing of his lyrics and her guitar playing. They played "Reunion" and "Sunset," the latter, with its shuffling beat and Sims' and Croft's vocals dropping in and out, eliciting huge cheers. They played "Swept Away," the song dropping out into just one rubbery bass line at one point. In the encore, they debuted "Tides," which had Smith playing some unusually glassy synths (for all the talk of the xx being an electronic band, and they are, synthesizers are rarely a big part of their sound--the electronics is in the beats, and the rest is mostly all guitars and vocals).
Otherwise, they ran through the still powerful songs of their debut, dramatically backlit in fog, bright white then purple, blue, or pink, or else playing in front of a projection of shifting, aquatic colors and shapes. They are, by design, a small band--they're also a young band--and yet they had no trouble controlling the capacity Showbox crowd with their every measured move.
Opener Perfume Genius--"Seattle's finest" by the xx's estimation--had a harder time keeping the early crowd's chattering attention, even with his dual piano balladry beefed up with live drumming (essential to the driving, breakthrough moments of outstanding newer songs like "Hood"). At one moment, Mike Hadreas could be seen to mouth the words "shhhh...shut up" at some yapper in the front row, who apparently didn't notice. Most of the time, though, he was genial and goofy between songs, whooping it up and smirking--the stark opposite of his music's trembling vulnerability. "Dark Parts" and "Mr. Peterson" were highlights, as was "Learning," for which Hadreas' bandmate and boyfriend Alan Wyffels joined him at his keyboard for a close-quartered duet, shrinking the stage and the whole clattering room down to the basic, forgivingly bridgeable space between two people.
The xx Set List:
Heart Skipped A Beat