It’s been three years since The xx performed at New York’s CMJ festival, generating a cooler-than-cool buzz for the British indie-pop group State-side. Fast forward to 2012, and the now trio, following the departure of Baria Qureshi some months later, ended this leg of their US tour with an extra show on Staten Island on Monday night – a kind of thank you to fans who’ve waited since then to hear new material. An unlikely setting for some – particularly those longtime New Yorkers who’d yet to ride the ferry over, the Snug Harbor Music Hall became the stage for an introspective, intimate cinematic set by the Mercury-Music-Prize winning performers, as they prepare to tour Europe ahead of their sophomore release, Coexist.
The lighting and smoke effects transformed the 120-year old venue from its town hall feel into a cosy night club, with dazzling effect, even setting off the fire alarm in among it all. The screen behind the band beamed images that played out almost, at times, like a Rorschach test of sorts, changing according to the songs. As Madley Croft sang Crystalized, you could make out a grimacing face in the ink-like blots, or in Basic Space, the chocolate brown background seemed to form itself into coffee beans, making me think of the domesticity of the song. The uplifting colours for VCR reflected the comfort of days gone by when we still actually used those machines, conjuring up pieces of candy. Or perhaps that was just my imagination, overdosing on all that seat-bristling bass and those knee-swirling beats.
The interplay between Romy Madley Croft on guitar and Oliver Sim on bass played out as if they were characters in a film, each taking turns at the leading role, sometimes coming together to share the spotlight. And always in the middle, Jamie Smith, aka Jamie xx, keeping time with his beat concoctions. Sim, played often with a gaze fixed solidly straight out in front of him, one that looked past the audience towards the back of the hall, making me want to turn around and look to see what, or who, was holding his intense focus. At one point, when ending new song, Sunset, with the line “see through me…” Sim’s face twisted into an agony deserving of a close-up. Madley Coft played his foil – more relaxed and loose, though she spoke less than he did.
“Our album is finished now,” Sim declared at one point. “Do you mind if we play a few more new songs from it?” Cue encouraging clapping. The steel pans and club-dance vibes coming through clearly showed the band’s growth and increased involvement of Smith, as has been noted in interviews about the new album. Swept Away was introduced with strains of I’ll Take Care of You (Smith’s track with Gil Scott Heron, most recently sampled by Drake and Rihanna for Take Care).
The audience could have been a bit more warm and embracing of the scenes playing out before them, as many sat straight on in their seats, often not moving along or responding much, except for the end when some stood in the aisles to dance to the encore of Intro and Stars. But perhaps that was the nature of this setting – it invited more contemplation than cutting-up-a-rug.
Heart Skipped A Beat
Swept Away (Take Care intro)