It was three years ago when I discovered the delicious dream pop sensation that is, the XX. The British trio presented the most sophisticated, seductive, yet somehow still innocent minimalist-pop gems last Friday night at Palladium in Hollywood, Ca. The band comprised of Romy Madley-Croft, whose guitar lines seem effortless, but fits comfortably within the style of Jamie Smiths drum patterns. Though bassist Oliver Sim and guitarist Madley-Croft is one of the band’s best assets—their velvety, but still modest vocals are perfect for delivering a haunting minimalist soundscape that has entranced thousands of fans. Drummer Jamie Smith, nonetheless, have also played a vital role in shaping each album’s sound and live performances—the drums may be the backbone, but the dynamic between Madley-Croft and Sim, gives-and-takes their adeptly swapped vocals, highlighting a unique chemistry.
After producing a beautiful and complex debut of their self-titled album in 2009, the XX had something undeniably unique about them as well as the group of shy Londoners became universally adored. The bands latest creation, Coexist, still introduces a work of all things minimal with every song delicately arranged. Both records soar from sympathy to minimalism, from grandeur to modesty—they’ve also evolved and matured, but not to the point that they’ve left their roots. Although Coexist mixture of sleek and ghostly sounds definitely won’t create a vision of an endless dance party, yet it’s dark, mellow, and glorious. But enough lagging—let’s go on with the show, shall we?
Opening the evening was 2:54—UK sisters: Colette and Hannah Thurlow. They create a tumbling bass, rolling into punk-rock guitars—exploring between a strange synergy of sludge rock of bands like early Queen of the Stone Age and PJ Harvey. The duo’s music for sure has a gothic quality to it as well—vocals of the vaguely post-adolescent kind, a dense layer of fuzzy, reverberating guitars, seemingly it’s from the 90’s alternative-rock era, propelled by drums and a thick, driving bass. Though they also have a signature sound of their own while building up into chilling vocal harmonies. Yep, if you think about it—2:54 was the perfect act to warm up the LA crowd for the XX.
As they hit the stage, the XX had become far more ghostly versions of themselves, surrounded only by a few smoke-filled lines of light, and hiding behind a sheered-black sheet. However, there’s nothing really unfamiliar about the smoky gothic mood of any XX performances: one girl-two boys, strobe lights, and a set of black clothes. While seeing the XX live, you can’t expect much wit, banter, or showmanship, it’s far from it, in fact, but Oliver tends to adorably sway and move with his undulating bass and the chorus of their music. Basically, the XX is content to let the music speak for itself.
Madley-Croft opens with the first few lines of Coexist, “Angels” exposing complex emotions to stripped down delicacy. Soft-minimal keys are barely present among the whispered vocals—leaving you to feel you stumbled on something private. The sheet then drops—an excited heat rises from the audience while Jamie Smith provides the songs on-the-spot beats. Meanwhile, bassist/vocalist Oliver Sim took the lead role and opened with “Heart Skipped A Beat” while Madley-Croft joins as if two independent people were telling their overlapping stories to the audience. Afterwards, Oliver utters to the crowd “So lovely to be back—Thank you Los Angeles”
Coexist, “Fiction” led a dark, throbbing beat, and eclectic mixtures of samples; providing a supplement to all sounds coming from the stage. Oliver’s voice also sounded as clear, crisp, and atmospheric than it does on the record. Though Jamie was by far one of the busiest of the three throughout their set, switching synths to rhythms to a variety of drums, especially while performing “Swept Away” as it’s also the closest Coexist gets to a dance track. The intro of self-titled XX “Crystalised” began with a stripped-down guitar riff led by Madley-Croft, and a bit more of a slower tune compared to the version on the record. It obviously came off as more intimate, and the vocals were perfectly tuned, but for those not expecting it, they were left hanging and pining for more—waiting for its mixture of hypnotic rhythms and throbbing beats that made the song a true gem. It’s the XX’s soulful harmonies and interesting collection of processed afro-beats—swinging with the occasional broken drums and popping chorus that makes self-titled XX “Basic Space” pretty wonderful; and a particular stand out of the night. In addition, as soon as I heard “VCR”, I fell in love. By the time the band broke into the undeniable groove of “Islands”: brilliant and damn-near-perfect—my thoughts exactly.
While the XX’s music entered a public realm Friday night, I honestly can say I deeply enjoyed watching the band voraciously sink into their music. The audience (and myself) holding up glowing I-phones off and on throughout the set; however, I suppose it’s fitting for a generation that usually hears music through their Macs anyway, but I can’t help to think: we’re totally missing out as some of us watch a live performance—basically through smart phones. Lame.
The entire set presented new tunes, sounding intimately epic while the older jams are truly the XX’s strongest element and creative progression. Though it all melted into each other and came together to form a beautifully captivating performance. At the end of the show, a huge letter “X” hovers the stage—revealing the band to perform their encore of the night. The instrumental introduction to their debut self-title record, “Intro” was a fantastic bit of music that seemingly declared “yes, you are at a great show”—sweeping into soft, comforting lyrics with “Stars” featuring both Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft’s romantic duet lends, and eerily soothing ambience with pulsating beats. The XX’s performance last Friday night: Holy. Mind. Blown.