The xx at First Avenue, 10/19/12

The xx at First Avenue, 10/19/12
Photo By Anna Gulbrandsen

The xx
with John Talabot Live and 2:54
First Avenue, Minneapolis
October 19, 2012

First Avenue was virtually filled to the rafters Friday night, yet the room was made to feel downright cavernous as the xx returned to Minneapolis. "Hushed" wouldn't even be the right word for it.

Not that that's terribly unusual these days, but the silence--and especially the stillness--was a little eerie. The London trio certainly did their part: they started the night off at a glacial pace, and from there they somehow managed to slow things down even further. When "Crystallised" appeared, early in the set, the band stripped it down until it was nearly unrecognizable. This, probably their most well-known song, was made to feel more like a Gregorian chant than a pop song, the hook having all but disappeared.

Things did pick up eventually, of course, and when they did, the release was gratifying. But the xx wasn't going to let things come that easily. It was almost as though they wanted to test the audience's patience, or at least their dedication.

See Also:
Slideshow: The xx at First Avenue, 10/19/12 
2:54 on coming to America, touring with the xx, and (of course) Prince

It's ironic, in a way, that the xx are so often characterized as being shy, for it was hard to come away from their show Friday believing they were anything other than totally confident in their music.  What may come across as some kind of timidness or uncertainty actually felt more like commitment to a vision. That commitmnt goes all the way down to how the band presents itself: the merch area was filled with nothing but black and white X's, an image that was also projected onto stage to signal the end of the show. And it almost goes without saying that the band were dressed in all black, as well.

The deceptive part, of course, is that the songs are all about young romances (presumably teenaged ones, though that's implied more than it's ever made explicit). They not only hinge on moments of uncertainty, but they linger there, repeating and reexamining them. The music, too, reflects this, going beyond merely being minimalistic to the point of nearly-obsessive fragmentation, its focus fixed on subtle movements and nuance.

The xx at First Avenue, 10/19/12
The xx at First Avenue, 10/19/12
Photos By Anna Gulbrandsen

Thus when a song like "Heart Skips a Beat," with its hiccuping drum machine, offered up a percolating beat early in the show, it was left tightly reigned in. After all, there are often dance tunes buried somewhere in the xx's songs, but that's not what they do. The beats, more than anything, are there as texture, as an extra point of tension, even anticipation. When the set was building to its culmination, and the beat dropped on "Night Time," the crowd let out a cheer. But, naturally, even it was a fleeting moment: suddenly the beat was gone, and all that was left was Romy Croft and Oliver Sim standing face to face, heads bowed, in the middle of stage.

The night was heavy on songs from their first album--in fact, every song from xx was played--and those were generally the highlights of the night. But some of the recent tracks from Coexist stood out as well, in particular "Reunion," which felt like a slow club jam, and "Swept Away," with its plunking piano.

Yet even the band seemed to focus its attention on the older, generally more immediate, songs, and in particular with their light show, which was quite beautiful. At times it washed the stage out in soft blues, the band lost in the fog of the smoke machine, while at others there were images projected onto the back of the stage--stars swirling, shapes shifting.

The xx at First Avenue, 10/19/12
The xx at First Avenue, 10/19/12
Photos By Anna Gulbrandsen

Those pieces all came together as the main set finished off with "Infinity," the stage exploding with blinding white lights every time Jamie Smith whacked his drum machine. The song smoldered and built gradually, with Croft and Sim's back-and-forth made to feel almost heartbreaking in its repetition:

Give it up.

I can't give it up.

And, just like that, it was over. The giant X appeared in the background, and the band exited in almost the only way appropriate: without a single word of adieu.

Critics Bias: Wasn't really sure what to expect, having not seen a live show from the xx yet. But I found the slowness rather amusing.
The Crowd: More than a few seemed ready for a Friday night party. Oops.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Why's nobody dancing? Are we that Minnesotan?"
Random Notebook Dump: The order of the openers seemed backward. 2:54 were a perfect match for the xx, and put on a good opening set, but John Talabot, which might as well have been a DJ set, was wedged in the middle for some reason. It killed what could have been some good momentum before the headliners went on.

Heart Skipped a Beat
Basic Space
Night Time
Swept Away


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