The xx, Flume @ Metro Theatre, Sydney (20/07/12)
Local gent Flume had the task of warming up the arriving punters at the Metro and he received a surprisingly generous response from the audience. Not surprising because he didn’t deserve it, more that support acts and particularly ones at electronic gigs often get ignored and treated as glorified DJs. In Flume’s case he had the floor nodding their heads to his fractured electro soul and hip hop tinged electronica and squealing at the mention of his collaboration with boy wonder Chet Faker.
After a extended wait past the advertised start time The xx finally arrived on stage in a sea of smoke, blue and white light and bathed in the near hysterical welcoming applause from the Sydney crowd. They bravely began with Angels, the first single to emerge from the forthcoming new album Coexist. Though the track has only been out for a week or so the crowd sang along loudly in unison. It was a stark moment of realisation about how quickly music seeps into the wider population these days. For a song so stark and minimal it has obviously been embraced as a real continuation of the high quality of music The xx have released. The repeated hook of “They would be as in love with you as I am” was communally chanted by the audience and it felt like a magical moment to start the set, connecting the fans to the new material before venturing into some of the better known tracks from their debut album.
Going straight into the comparably upbeat Island switched the crowd’s focus from their heads to their feet and reminded how well The xx bridge both cerebral and dance-floor electronic music. Theirs is melancholic dance music yet the biggest response seemed to come from the vocal interplay between bassist Oliver Sim and guitarist Romy Madley-Croft whose voices surprisingly never got lost in the volume of their instruments. Another new track, Fiction, had Sim ditching the bass and shifting centre stage with his glowering, slow-prowl vocal style looming over the front rows. As the set evolved and we heard more of the new tracks like Reunion, Sunset and Tides it became apparent that the newer songs are musically darker, with more electronic depth and percussive variation. There were some subtle nods to club and house music and also the stark mechanical rhythms that Portishead have explored.
Though Jamie xx has built a profile in the last few years with his remixes and solo releases he still feels like the silent third partner on stage. That probably stemmed from him being the only one without a mic as he was by far the busiest of the three, switching from synths and rhythm and beat modules to a variety of drums. Like a mad scientist conducting secret experiments he busily moved between his instruments creating robotic accents and textures and in Fantasy a miasmic sea of rumbling bass that was one of the high-points of the set as it rattled the Metro’s fittings and sent subsonic waves through our bodies. Madley-Croft’s guitar playing also proved to be one of the central touchstones of the night. It is quite impressive that she can conjure so many variations on melancholic melody with pretty much the same guitar effects throughout the set. New Order and Interpol no doubt figure high on her list of stylistic influences, as would the cinematic moods of Angelo Badalamenti.
At times the Metro felt like a football terrace with the audience singing along en masse to tracks like Shelter and though it was a sign of the audience’s devotion to the songs and appreciation of the performance it often felt incongruous with the type of music the band creates. The crowd could also have shown a bit more respect when the music was reduced to its most skeletal moments. Witnessing their performance at Laneway Festival a few years ago was memorable for the quiet attentiveness of the audience that allowed the music to hang in the air, spotlighting The xx’s glorious use of space and silence.
This was a performance that completely dismissed any thoughts of the band being a one album wonder. The older songs still sounded intimately epic while the new ones sounded like both a consolidation of their strongest elements and a creative progression. This was one of those shows that truly whets the appetite for a band’s new album and hopefully a return visit for a full tour in the near future.