Their performance was anything BUT subtle, minimalist, restrained or any of the other overworked adjectives you may have read describing their sound.
The band, Oliver Sim (bass, vocals), Romy Madley Croft (guitar, vocals) and Jamie Smith, a.k.a. Jamie x (drum pads, steel drums, keyboards, you name it) has been touring behind its well-received, just-released second album, “Coexist.” In interviews they’ve said that their records are stark, intimate and unadorned, partly to be able to recreate the songs live. Wednesday night, they showed a rapt, sold-out audience how those same songs transform into something extraordinary in a live setting.
Sim and Crofts’ voices are more assured. They whispered, crooned and sang perfectly. Their vocal interplay was spot-on. The band’s chops, a few months into the US tour, was a marvel to hear. Jamie xx, the secret weapon, laid down perfect beats and sounds, seemingly invisible (although certainly as crucial an element as the others in the band’s sound) behind the two charismatic singers.
The light show was first rate, the sound in the theater, immaculate. All the moody, intimate moments from songs like the set opener “Angels” were treated exquisitely by reverb all around Croft’s guitar and breathy bedroom vocals, Sim’s sporadic bass and Jamie xx’s spare percussion.
The songs and production are a cut above most contemporaries, although a significant part of the band’s appeal is the lyrics; tales more about lovesickness than love itself. There was a palpable, subtle sexuality throughout most of the show, culminating in the regular set closer, “Infinity,” Croft moaning the refrain, “Give it up. I can’t give it up.”
They thanked the audience repeatedly and, despite the mountain of hype behind them, seemed genuinely appreciative and completely unjaded. In a Denver concert week that saw faded talents from the ’80s (Madonna) and ’90s (Smashing Pumpkins), it was refreshing to hear non-retro, clearly 21st century music. A lot of forward thinking artists often produce music that’s more interesting than it is listenable. The xx do both.
Mike Long is a Longmont-based writer and comedian and a regular contributor to Reverb.