The xx have moved beyond being indie darlings and have embraced the spotlight that has shone upon them since their much-hyped self-titled debut. At Hammerstein Ballroom in New York on Thursday, The xx defined maturity and the fragility of love and relationships.
Over the course of two albums, the xx have become incredibly popular, first playing the Mercury Lounge in 2009 and now selling out two nights at Hammerstein Ballroom. Their success has been defined by the exploration of love and that tenuous string that draws people together but can so easily be lost.
The xx have carved a niche for themselves mining human emotions, and, at their first concert of 2013, the band exuded control. Much like relationships, some experience goes a long way, and that was evident throughout the night. Quietly assured of their choices, the xx know they have made the right step and can truly expand on the rich tension of their music.
Hidden behind a curtain, the xx started the night with “Angels,” from their latest album, “Coexist.” That initial veil was quickly removed, and fans were given an early treat with “Heart Skipped a Beat,” from their debut. The xx were theatrical on stage, pulsing and quaking with tension and pushing for relief.
While the focus may have been on the dual leads of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, the not-too-secret secret weapon of Jamie xx was further highlighted throughout the night. Jamie xx, who has quietly become a superstar producer, gaining great notice for his Gil-Scott Heron remix album, “We're New Here,” gets to have a moment in the spotlight with his single "Far Nearer."
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For the xx, a chasm seemed to keep Madley Croft and Sim apart as each stood on opposite ends of the stage. Sim sometimes crossed that imaginary line, and the two leads converged at the center of the stage. If there has been a knock against the band, it could be that they are more style than substance. Each member was dressed in black with little physical emotion, but the band used that style to create something more than the sum of its parts. The band was a blank slate for the emotions, such as love and loss, that make up the core of their music.
The xx were now out of the shadows, and their personalities were allowed to shine, while the more minimal songs of “Coexist” were built up and expanded. Jamie xx was allowed to flex his production muscle, providing segues, thunderous blasts of bass and club-ready beats that had the crowd at Hammerstein Ballroom dancing.
At times, the xx on stage could be considered adventurous. Very rarely in the past did the band go beyond their comfort zone, but at Hammerstein, Sim and Madley Croft moved to the center of the stage with all the attention on them. The band even went so far as to introduce a one-time only version of “Chained.” While it took them three times to get it right, the effort was worth it, especially seeing Madley Croft and Sim laugh and that cool facade melt away for just a second.
Visually, the xx had a few tricks to compliment the musical tension. The lighting would set up cloudy skies that were soon coupled with pulsating lights, offering a nostalgic and dream-like quality to the set. At the end of the main set, the xx revealed a giant “X" hanging above the stage that lit up and announced the end of the main set and the inevitable return for an encore.
“Intro” was a concussive and satisfying way to return to the stage segueing perfectly into “Tides” before wrapping things up sweetly with “Stars.” The xx proved that they have grown up and become more than just pining youth in love. Instead, the xx were willing to lead and show off what they have learned.
The setlist and a playlist from the night are below. A link for the playlist can be found here.
- The xx at Hammerstein Ballroom, Thursday:
- "Heart Skipped a Beat"
- "Reunion/Far Nearer"
- "Night Time"
- "Swept Away"