Nochella, April 16: The XX seduces Las Vegas
Custom Search 2
Even if the sky had suddenly dumped a foot of rain on the valley, The XX weren't about to have their Las Vegas show interrupted.
Onstage at The Joint -- having went with an indoor gig after last October's Boulevard Pool show was cut short at the onset of a downpour, and never rescheduled at the venue -- singer/guitarist Romy Madley-Croft, programmer/instrumentalist Jamie "XX" Smith and singer/bassist Oliver Sim seemed genuinely happy to be back in Las Vegas and in front of an enthusiastic crowd (which, while sizable, was not quite as big as the one at The Cosmopolitan six months ago).
During its 15-song, 90-minute set list, the trio balanced its dubby, moody laments with its signature brand of R&B as filtered through the London club scene. Nearly alternating one ballad for every mid- or uptempo number meant never losing the crowd (with the exception of antsy boyfriends and chatty drunk girls), while also remaining loyal to the band's atmospheric duality.
The XX make it easy to connect with their listeners. Whispery Madley-Croft and Sim, a baritone, trade off vocal duties -- often within the same song -- with romantic confessions kept simple and direct, free from precious metaphors and overthought contemplations. Madley-Croft favors post-punk melodies on her guitar, her tones and progressions nearly straight out of the New Order and 1980s-era U2 playbooks. Sim is no show-off; he sticks to functional, though groove-rich basslines. Behind them, Smith, on a DJ's riser, mans various technical apparatus, synthesizers, drums and what appeared to be a small vibraphone. The results are typically minimalistic and free from indulgence, usually building to subtle 4/4 climaxes or, conversely, mood-shifting breakdowns.
An interesting addition to this dynamic is the band's remixing of its material, especially during "Reunion," "Shelter" and "Chained." Though sounding well-rehearsed and not spontaneous, especially given the lighting cues, the refreshed and/or expanded versions demonstrated growth by the young band -- it wrote most of its 2010 debut when the members were 16 -- and offered an audience that seemed very familiar with even the album cuts an element of surprise. The infusion of a snippet from "Tides" felt welcome in the otherwise tight instrumental "Intro."
Equally intriguing was getting to watch the interplay between Madley-Croft and Sim, who sound like dueting lovers both on record and onstage, but only hint at such a premise when playing next to one another. During "Sunset," the musicians approached one another after exchanging verses ... and merely smiled at each other. The tease is sufficient; to play that up visually would cheese up, if not spoil the songs' romantic tension.
Instead, The XX's trademark intimacy expands from the two musicians to the entire room, partly because of the fog-enhanced spotlights and floodlighting evoking a mood that swallows up the crowd, and partly due to the way the musicians woo the audience through their performance. In all, an XX concert is an exercise in seduction play, though, to the band's credit, not in the overt ways we've come to expect from its American R&B peers. It's a singular experience that, finally, Las Vegans got to experience, in full.