September 12, 2012
On the day the band’s second album, Coexist, is released, The xx are glad to be home. Vocalist/bass player Oliver Sim expresses as much with a characteristically short and simple bit of crowd interaction following tonight’s opener ‘Angels’. After essentially spending the whole year working everywhere but London, it’s to be expected.
Coexist has been a while in the making, but for those worried about a major diversion from the Mercury Prize-winning combination of space and minimalistic intimacy of the group’s debut, this sold-out show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire should calm those nerves.
The new album — featured heavily throughout — slots effortlessly into the band’s repertoire, with tracks like ‘Chained’ utilising vocalist/guitarist Romy Madley Croft’s echoing guitar lines over a skipping, Burial-like beat.
‘Missing’ is a good example of The xx’s ability to blend pensive songs of loss and yearning with slightly ominous overtones, something demonstrated equally well when Sim takes centre-stage for ‘Fiction’; a touching Coexist highlight delivered in his deep, distinctive baritone. The new album’s title is pertinent on a number of levels, not least in the organic duality of Croft and Sim’s voices — once more, a key feature of this follow-up effort — demonstrated again and again throughout the evening.
Producer/percussionist Jamie Smith pounds away at all manner of electronic drum pads and samplers behind the front pair, his hands flurrying over the steel pan loop on ‘Reunion’ or hammering out the solid beat of ‘Heart Skipped A Beat’.
Despite the prominence of the new material, some old favourites are present. ‘Crystalised’ is given an even sparser reading in the live setting, while the rhythmic guitar loop of ‘Islands’ adds an uplifting touch to proceedings.
The unhurried and unassuming nature of the trio, although initially refreshing, makes it difficult for them to maintain momentum, and towards the end of the set things start to sound a little texturally samey. The pace rarely leaves lethargic, and when it does, it’s for Smith to bring his deep house solo styles to the party, sliding some four-to-the-floor kicks under a reworking of ‘Shelter’ that doesn’t quite sit right with the direction of the rest of the show. A poignant version of ‘VCR’ brings things back into focus, prompting a mass sing-along — something that shouldn’t fit The xx image, yet ends up strangely touching.
The xx are a band that have excited critics with an unforced, natural, yet hard-to-define sound since the success of that debut three years ago. In whatever pigeonhole they do belong, however, the trio have no equals — a fact underlined by tonight’s showing.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON