The xx Review
Let’s get the politics out of the way first. There are people here tonight in Brighton’s seafront enormodome moaning about how they bought tickets to see The xx at the Dome, but the gig was upgraded. Whatever the reason for the upgrade (coughs, “money!”), the question remains – can a band that made its name through the intimate, the subtle shifts and well, silence, ever translate in a sports hall?
Short answer: yes. Easily. After support act Kindness deliver a set so lacking in sound quality you fear the worst, The xx take to the stage behind a projection of oil and blow every single concern from your head. Albeit gently. Certainly they’ve played smaller gigs in Brighton (“You’re like our second home”, singer Oliver Sim chuckles), but they’ve never played more deftly – even when still a four-piece. The sheet before them falls to reveal, well, not much – the look is monochrome but basic. However, someone at the lighting desk knows exactly what they’re doing. Throughout the night strobes, projections of what look like the norovirus and blank, startling fields of light are interspersed between the verses, and it heightens the occasion spectacularly.
At their best, The xx fuse a kind of modern soul with the clubland that producer Jamie Smith clearly understands well. They never exactly break out into full-on rave tonight, but it’s at the points when they suggest that they might – the end of ‘Night Time’ when Smith’s sub rhythms splinter off and the venue’s vast balconies reverberate, only to stop and fade just as sharply to silence and black – that they devastate. A micro-dub version of ‘Crystalised’, with high-pitched beats replacing its usual thud is interesting too, reworked and remoulded after two years of live crafting.
When Sim introduces ‘Chained’ as “the UK version”, the crowd looks puzzled. Then, Smith drops in the melody from The Artful Dodger’s ‘Moving Too Fast’, cutting between that and the call-and-response of Sim and Romy Madley Croft. It’s amazing, and makes the accusations of seriousness and po-facedness often levelled at The xx seem unfair. As if to hammer the point home, they then play “for the second time ever,” their cover of Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’. Seriously.
As the curfew looms the trio leave, but return to play ‘Intro’ as a giant ‘X’ is revealed behind them, projecting light out to every nook. ‘Infinity’ follows, lurching between silence and sharp, devilishly loud rasps on Smith’s cymbal. Then ‘Stars’ closes, a brooding take on isolation and longing that somehow crafts a mood from sub-bass rumbles and lone piano chords alone.
The xx then, are still doing very little, but what they get from that, their conversion of the physical to the emotional, is easily worthy of venues this size. As ever, it’s an honour to watch them doing it.
Brighton Centre, Thursday 20th December 2012
Words by Jake Kennedy