What do you do when you’ve just released a highly acclaimed album that is almost perfect in its minimalist execution ? You go and play the songs live in an equally superb manner. Or at least that’s what you do if the name of your band is The XX.
Stepping in as support act to Vampire Weekend for this one off club date in Brighton The XX (pictured) line up stage front with two bright white XX’s glowing from black square boxes flanking each side of the stage. Their appearance is of burgeoning gloomy goths; all baggy black nondescript clothing with chains. They could be the ‘couldn’t be bothered’ friends of The Horrors. And whilst their music is darkly enigmatic, it bears more resemblance to something from the Martin Hannett school of Factory production than any Fields Of The Nephilim record. Perfectly seductive and subdued past-bedtime boy girl vocals nestle with awkward brooding Robert Smith like guitars and heavy electronic beats that verge towards dubstep. From the opening two songs of Intro and Crystallised it is clear that the XX are able to replicate their studio sound perfectly live. The recordings have plenty of space in between the urban melancholy notes meaning that played live there is nothing missing - no tacky orchestral strings played from keyboards where on record a live string section was used, no limp attempts at backing vocals to replicate multi vocal overdubs. The minimalism sounds strangely fuller in the live context. Throughout the XX remain aloof but even that seems perfect for the music, just a thank you in between songs which dual vocalists Romy and Oliver even manage to harmonise together at one point. A unique cover version of Womack and Womack’s Teardrops seals the deal. Wonderfully understated both musically and in terms of performance, it makes us love the album even more.
By modern standards Vampire Weekend are doing pretty well. They nearly have album No.2 in the bag, even although their last album is still wriggling around in the best of lists from last year. The groups infectious tunes and quirkiness are probably the reasons why UK audiences took them to their hearts so much last year. Despite their very smart creative nuance that could have easily come from the UK, lead singer Ezra is at pains to point out from the stage that “Contrary to popular belief, we’re not English.” However, we‘re not sure if there are many English bands that would feature a lanky drummer dressed in a basketball vest and a lead singer that wears a pair of shorts and a neat cotton shirt to play live. “A lot has changed since we played here last, we’ve got a backdrop now,” Ezra jokes, referencing the banner of their debut album cover behind them, and it is mainly songs from this album that the band play with just a few new tracks thrown in to test the audience. In fairness the new songs sound as quirky and inventive as the old ones taking tropical, African and dance rhythms as influences but adding more diversity. The set starts slowly with the oddball Mansard Roof and gradually builds, the crowd moving from head nodding appreciation to bouncing and dancing, particularly when the band let loose with A Punk. In the course of an hour Ezra turns from a nicely turned out preppy looking dude to a sweating, leg twitching rock beast. Or near as damn it. They end with Oxford Comma before returning to encore with the sprightly Walcott and leave the audience happy from a highly competent if largely forgettable show.