The xx. Boulder Theater. 10.17.12

It seems like a lifetime ago when “VCR” was the top download on The Hype Machine, so when the London trio performed the song that introduced so many to their sublimely subtle sound, it was hard to believe The xx have only been in our lives since 2009.  This young band became the next ‘indie darlings’ with their self-titled debut that year, but it took another year for that impact to be felt outside certain circles.  Flash forward to 2012 and we now have a band that seems to have been with us forever.  And although their sophomore release was somewhat of a disappointment when compared to the minimal (yet multi-layered) first album, seeing Romy, Oliver and Jamie perform live immediately erased all doubts that they would go down as a one-album wonder.  Last night’s performance was an exercise in peeling back layers of their art — an exercise that requires the band to be present in the flesh.

What has always intrigued me about The xx has been the interplay of male/female vocals — the almost excruciating sexual tension that exists between Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim.  They formed the band when they were 15 years old and have managed to capture (and maintain) the explosive excitement AND the confusion and frustration that comes with discovering your sexuality at that young age.  I don’t know if these two have ever been with each other, or if they are writing about lovers past, and it doesn’t really matter, because when they perform together, it’s as if there is no one else in the room…or in the world.  But to end the conversation there would be to ignore what is happening right behind them.  While on stage, Jamie xx is the party we are all attending — the chaos of the club, the DJ in the basement, the life of the afterparty — Jamie is the lights, camera and action that Romy and Oliver are too blind with lust (and love and hate and pain and anguish) to see.

The way The xx can balance the whispered words up front, and the bass heavy set in the back, is what makes them so unique.  Minimal, sexy and subtle are words that can explain the interplay between the two vocalists, but they do not apply to the atmosphere in which they share their secrets.  Remove them from the scene and you have a dance party — something Jamie xx’s DJ sets have become famous for.  The only word to describe The xx as a whole is ‘precise’.  Everything on that stage is precise.  A friend of mine put it well when he said ‘they leave no room for error’.  It is rare to see a band so razor sharp, yet not mechanical in any way.  The short banter between songs showed a human side to The xx — a truly appreciative side — and they provided some of the most unique lighting I have ever seen.  At one point it seemed as if the white light was rising out of the crowd like a warm fog.

On a night that was stacked against me (I had to rush from a work event to get to Boulder on time and had to stay sober to drive home), I was completely floored by the level of depth The xx brought to the stage.  Admittedly biased toward the first album, I couldn’t help but be grateful that they played it in its entirety, but the performance really brought me around to the Coexist tracks as well.  I don’t know what took them so long to get to Colorado, but I’m hoping it doesn’t take them another couple years to find their way back.

Heart Skipped a Beat
Basic Space
Night Time
Swept Away (Take Care)