Photos, review - The XX, Melbourne 2010
Who's saying what
Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Wednesday, 3rd February, 2010
At the first sign of a drum beat, the Corner Hotel begins to heave. The xx may craft their songs to be quiet, spare and desolate – but tonight the audience responds most vigorously to the beats, moving to every sound issued from the drum machine of Jamie Smith. Those in the audience who are particularly amped for the performance even manage to shake out a danceable rhythm from Romy Croft’s one-string guitar parts.
This is commendable enthusiasm, but indicative: the audience is primed. This type of response must be almost normal for the band now. They have been on tour since their debut album was released in the second half of last year. While they have been out playing in clubs, the praise and album sales have piled high.
For many of those who bought the album, The xx have been absorbed into their everyday – and night – worlds. And tonight the fans respond in kind: singing along, applauding raucously at the end of songs and occasionally going absolutely fucking bananas over minor details. The way Romy scatters syllables across a bar, the way Oliver Sim’s lyrics crash into the end of her lines, the enormous, overwhelming throb of bass during ‘Fantasy’ – all of these become points of celebration tonight. What might be minor quirks hidden inside larger productions are telescoped into enormous presences because of the band’s relatively bare instrumentation. People know every sound on this record and respond with glee when their favourite part is reproduced on stage.
I struggle at first to reconcile the intimacy and sadness of the band’s album with the adulation and rapture of the audience at the live show. But how else should it be done? A seated show would have been inappropriate, given the heavy R&B and electronic bloodlines coursing through many of the songs – but so too does the pub crowd's outright ecstasy feel a little strange, the incongruous cheering of a boisterous, boozy bar in late summer. To hear these bedroom transmissions here, it just seems a little out of whack, a kind of schadenfreude, a rowdy celebration of woe. Then it becomes apparent that this is exactly and rightly what is occurring, that this is what the band’s lyrics and productions afford us: experiences passing through to something else, isolation to communing, wretchedness becoming radiance. The trembling melismas of chart-pop do something similar to this on nightclub dancefloors each night: the abandon of the crowd becoming an ecstatic attempt to participate in and channel melancholy to joyful ends.
Also, people were probably quite drunk, hot and a little fidgety at points. (This became obvious later in the set as more and more talking could be heard – particularly in the back section, where the usual music industry schmucks gladhanded one another and talked about dinner parties – to the detriment of quiet passages in the tunes. Hence the loud, beaty bits were more prominent because they crashed into and broke up the trading of inanities.)
The show's rapture is particularly striking because, if anything, the band seems to be playing the songs even slower than the record. The band resists the tug of adrenalin, keeping a steady pace. It may just be the humidity slowing time, I can’t really tell, but the songs feel to be lurching and grinding more than they do at home. The bodies squashed in here tonight amplify the uncanny sensuality of the band’s duets – songs not sung to one another but in a kind of parallel, almost against each other, a trading of war stories. To hear and revel in this ache with others, this is that stunning transformation of the album’s isolation into a communion at the live show. I am eager to hear exactly how the experience of touring these songs to these audiences will feed back into their next work – will it embolden them to make heavier, dancier productions, or will it increase their alienation, pushing them into feelings of disconnection from their own audience?
For now, though, they have the songs that they have. And it’s not too many. Like any band touring off the back of just one album, there can be few surprises and disappointments in the setlist. Even before they begin, we assume we will get practically all the album tonight – and reviews of the Laneway shows already spoke of the ‘Teardrops’ cover. Nevertheless, unvarying as the setlist might be, it is gratifying to see the band poised enough to reproduce their barebones sound, to hear them fumble out a few mistakes, to experience these glorious songs played loud and live. The trio break out of the dour theatrics tonight, forgetting the script and setting – all black clothing, trademark gold jewellery, stolid gazes – by appearing genuinely chuffed at the response. Smiling and a little breathless, all the way down here, so far from their bedrooms, with all these people, in summer, sweating and dancing.
(Pics: Tim O'Connor)
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