I’m at a concert, and it’s raining on me. Hundreds of outdoors shows make up my concert bragsheet, and it’s only the third one where I endured inclement weather.
One of those stormy gigs was certainly not the first time I saw The XX play: at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, near Palm Springs, on an outdoor stage. The late afternoon weather, as you could imagine, was bright, dry and hot. Festival programmers couldn’t have picked a worse time or place for the English trio and its evocative, melancholic and stargazy music. The atmosphere felt so wrong for The XX’s spare, post-punk R&B balladry that I couldn’t even finish the set.
So it’s with some irony that the next time I got to see the band, it would be in an equally dry desert city, at a venue with an outdoor stage — the Boulevard Pool at the Cosmopolitan — and it rains. Later, someone on my Facebook calls it poetic. I, eternal foe of rain, call it frustrating. A perfect evening interrupted.
Earlier, a friend with whom I hadn’t hung out for awhile says he’ll join me for the show, and we arrive early to catch the opener, John Talabot (I implore you to look up his Soundcloud page). I had some wristbands that got us into a second-level area with an open bar, and when we arrive there, I encounter the usual suspects: downtown regulars, fellow journalists, musicians, acquaintances and friends. Every visit to the Boulevard Pool means running into several people I know — like concerts downtown, and infrequently like concerts at other tourist-corridor venues. There’s something about the Pool that compels people who might not be that invested or familiar with the headlining talent, or who abhor Strip events, to pony up for a ticket. And tonight, more than 2,500 people do just that.
Repeat: An indie rock band not named Arcade Fire drew more than 2,500 people in Las Vegas.
I take in that swell of humanity packed in front of the stage. I want to join them, but then The XX steps onstage. I stay put, for two things immediately happen: It starts to drizzle, and upon the launch of opening song and current single “Angels,” those 2,500 people sing along with vocalist/guitarist Romy Madley Croft.
And for about six songs, it’s heavenly. The band’s ethereal songs about romance and heartbreak seem to still any bustle overheard on the Strip below. Everyone keeps the same rhythm, gently swaying in rapture. I’m still hating the drizzle, but tonight it’s an oddly comforting complement to the music, and the fog machines only enhance it.
And then, the drizzle becomes a downpour. Croft gives a regretful goodbye, the band exits the stage, and the crowd surges toward the covered bars and the exits into the casino. Given the large numbers of people, my friend and I stride to the garage to avoid the gridlocked exodus that usually follows an event at the Pool.
With apologies to the other music spots I frequent, I’m convinced if The XX played one of the nearby theaters, it would have drawn half as many people.
The Pool is at the Cosmopolitan, still the most culturally relevant casino-hotel in town. It overlooks one the most famous boulevards in the world, which is overwhelming on the street level but breathtaking to gaze at from a higher vantage point. It’s surrounded by manmade enormity and man-transplanted palm trees, but the absurdity of the Strip doesn’t make this urban oasis feel surreal. Actually, it’s quite serene and comfortable up there. That’s a big selling point. So is the quality of its concert schedule.
And the fact that no other venue in town looks more like Las Vegas itself.