The xx at The Phoenix in Toronto

4 April 2010

London trio the xx returned to Toronto for their first headlining show on Easter Sunday and delighted the crowd with an intimate and understated live show. Beginning the set with moody album opener “Intro”, the band was shrouded behind a white curtain and their silhouettes were cleverly illumined against the scrim. As the track ended, the curtain dropped revealing the giant X (that has become their hipster branding) and their trademark light boxes lit up in the centre of the stage. They immediately followed with “Crystalised” and had the crowd in melancholic rapture. The overall mood was dark and big props have to go out to their lighting team who deftly added excellent atmosphere to the band’s timid and shoegazey stage presence.

Guitarist Romy Madley Croft and bassist Oliver Sim stood on either end of the stage, while beatmaker Jamie Smith worked the drum pads behind them. At times the percussion seemed a bit muted, but the bass drops were deep and rattled appropriately. Croft’s guitar work was a bit rusty, perhaps still adjusting to the absence of rhythm guitarist Baria Qureshi, but I enjoyed the very live feel of it all — a young band on their first big tour, exploring the capabilities and further possibilities of their sound in a live setting. They played every song off their debut album and one cover by UK artist Kyla called “Do You Mind”, which featured Smith manipulating the vocals to great effect and vigorously playing a snare and floor tom during the song’s kick. The additon of real drums is one thing the three-piece will surely realize as a necessary expansion for live gigs, but overall, the xx are a young band with loads of potential and subtle class. I dug it.

Sweden duo jj, on the other hand, played a ridiculous set of their Pitchfork lauded, pot leaf and blood stained album covered, cheese pop garbage, to a very bored and befuddled crowd. jj are sure to fade into indie-rock obscurity just as soon as Pitchfork finds another crappy band they decide to make popular for no reason other than the fact that they can. The singer Elin Kastlander does have a very nice voice, but it could do nothing to save their set from totally sucking. The guy was air-guitaring on stage instead of actually playing the real one next to him. Haha. So bad.

We missed Nosaj because he went on so early, but I have seen him twiddle his knobs before. Next time he comes back, he better bring his visual accompaniment with him. But overall, yes, twas a great night. I’m out.

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