Where: Congress Theater
When: October 20th, 2012
Grade: 4.5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed and photographed by: Neil Miller, Jr.
When a live show takes your breath away, it’s a unique and irreplaceable experience. When that one moment takes you on such an emotional high that it seems as if nothing else exists except for you and the artists onstage, it’s what makes being a music lover meaningful. We can listen to our records over and over again until the end of time, but it’s connecting with the artists responsible for those replayable works of art in a controlled environment that makes the music explode to a whole other level. The xx are one of those few acts who can reel anyone in and place a spell on them for the entirety of their set… so long as you’re willing to let them.
Sadly, half of the crowd at the Congress was feeling exceptionally chatty throughout the whole show and only shut their traps when a dance beat courtesy of Jamie xx (sampler/beatmaker/multi-instrumentalist) bled into the mix. For those who this show was meant to inspire, it surely succeeded — I was definitely one of the wide-eyed fans who could barely mutter a word throughout The xx’s set. But as I told my fiancée after the show (he was one of those in the audience who felt it was “boring” at times), "you can actually accomplish being intense without having to be intense." No one understands that better than The xx. Their music occupies a certain space that few artists can touch, and most wouldn’t dare try. It must be a real feat to have a sound as minimal as this UK troupe but still manage to enrapture your audience. The live show, though, outshines the albums in spades.
It’d be easy to dissect every song for you and explain how emotional each one felt, but if you’ve ever heard The xx then you most likely already know how their music can connect with the listener. For those who loved their debut album more than their more recently released Coexist, they were in for a treat, as the entire album was performed live… albeit in scattered bits throughout the set. I was more interested in hearing the newer material since I’d heard the old favorites live when I caught them at Bonnaroo back in 2009. So, when they opened up with “Angels,” a surefire highlight of Coexist, I erupted with applause along with the rest of the audience.
My favorite moment of the show and probably the most poignant of the night was the performance of “Reunion” back-to-back with “Sunset,” just as it’s presented on Coexist. These are my two favorite songs on the new album, so naturally this section of the show grabbed me more than any other. Especially when that simple, yet infectious beat kicks in ¾ of the way through “Reunion,” I felt as if the world could be exploding around me, and I could still be tapping my foot and dancing the whole way through. It was after this that The xx would transform some of their older material into 2-stepping anthems that would’ve fit nicely into a Jamie xx DJ set. At first I was a little unsure of these older tracks being presented in a more danceable manner, especially “Shelter,” which is arguably their most dismal and sensitive track from their first album. It worked, but I think this is one moment I would’ve liked to really soak up the atmosphere and their amazing (yet also minimalist) lighting. Luckily, they killed the dance beat for that soaring, reverbed guitar riff that sends my heart afloat every time I hear it.
After the band left the stage, they returned and unveiled a gigantic “X” behind them that started filling up with light and smoke (I was curious as to why they needed several trailers outside for their gear) as they started into “Intro” from their debut album. Weirdly enough, this is one of their most well-known songs in spite of there being no vocals whatsoever. Hopefully, its popularity isn’t due to Rihanna biting the entire track for her “Drunk On Love” cut from Talk That Talk, but regardless, it’s one of their most instantly recognizable tracks. They then started into “Tides,” which could surely function as the “Shelter” of Coexist. This is the one song I wish I could’ve seen them perform with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra last month due to its orchestral flourishes and lush harmonies between Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. They’re known for their harmonies, but it’s on “Tides” that this dynamic really takes on a monumental form. The xx closed out their show with the final track from their debut, “Stars,” which made for a fitting end to what might have been the most emotionally exhausting show I’ve ever seen. I felt happy, I felt hopeful, I felt sad, and I felt heartbreak throughout the course of The xx’s set… and as I’ve always said, a show that makes you feel anything is a good show. So, with that said, The xx onstage makes for one of the best and most gratifying shows you’ll ever hope to see.