The xx gets theatrical at the Vogue
At the Vogue Theatre on Friday, October 5
It would have been easy for concertgoers to mellow out during the xx’s latest Vancouver appearance. After all, the British trio’s eerily sparse brand of confessional balladry isn’t exactly conducive to partying. To the crowd’s credit, however, those who packed into the Vogue Theatre weren’t shy about showing their enthusiasm, and this meant that even the concert’s quietest moments were buzzing with excitement.
Opener John Talabot set the celebratory mood with a danceable selection of tuneful electro tracks. The Barcelona native was joined on stage by an auxiliary beatmaker, and the two overlaid their thudding rhythms with sweetly twinkling synths and reverb-kissed harmonies. The results hovered somewhere between bleary pop and club-oriented disco, and while this was received warmly by the audience, it was clear that most folks were saving their energy for the headliner.
The first few rows of seats had been removed prior to the show, and the crowd crammed onto the floor in anticipation of the evening’s main event. Between sets, a semi-transparent curtain was hoisted up in front of the stage, and the silhouetted members of the xx launched into their first song, “Angels”, while obscured by a silvery swirl of projections.
The screen dropped a couple of minutes later, but this didn’t make the visuals any less striking. The three-piece was dressed in black and scarcely visible throughout most of the performance, with smoke machines and stark backlighting contributing to the drama of guitarist Romy Madley Croft and bassist Oliver Sim’s steamy duets.
The pair traded off lovelorn verses on most of the songs, with Sim’s husky croon intermingling sweetly with Madley Croft’s R & B-tinged emoting. At times, their breathy whispers were almost overpowered by the fans, who hollered along with every word during set highlights “Crystalised” and “VCR”. These cuts from 2009’s xx provoked the night’s most rapturous sing-alongs, although material from the more recent Coexist was also heralded with roars of approval.
The vocalists’ chemistry was smouldering, but the true star of the night was producer Jamie Smith (otherwise known as Jamie xx), who scurried between three separate rigs while anchoring the tunes with a moody sonic backdrop of drum machines and atmospheric electro textures. Rather than relying on programmed loops, he tapped out many of the rhythms manually using an array of drum pads. His multitasking was especially impressive on “Reunion”, when he pulled double duty on steel drums and sampler before transitioning into the quietly beat-driven “Sunset”.
The energy rose as the set went on, and “Night Time” culminated in a brief dance party—albeit a very dark and down-tempo one. There was little time for the musicians to banter with the audience as they launched from one song into the next with the bare minimum of downtime.
During the final moments of “Infinity”, which closed out the main part of the 90-minute set, a curtain at the back of the stage lifted to reveal a massive illuminated X, prompting many onlookers to take out their cell phones to film the proceedings. But the theatrics weren’t over quite yet; during the subsequent three-song encore, the X was lit up with a blur of colours to resemble the Coexist album cover.
Prior the show-closing “Stars”, Sim took the mic and, in a moment of uncharacteristic friendliness, smiled bashfully as he thanked the crowd with a hand held over his heart. When exiting a few minutes later, he and Madley Croft paused at the front of the stage to graciously soak in the cheers before walking off hand in hand. Who says that a night of gloomy torch songs can’t be fun?