Thursday, 29 October 2009

The XX + Esben and the Witch @ Brighton Audio

Such is the growing popularity of The XX that their show in Brighton had already been upgraded from The Freebutt to the slightly larger Audio. With a capacity crowd in attendance there’s more than just suggestion that the wave they are currently riding could have taken them right down to Brighton’s seafront to the even bigger Concorde, where only a month or two ago they were the support act to Vampire Weekend (review here) It is no surprise that next time the band play Brighton in March 2010 they will be headlining the six hundred and fifty capacity Komedia.

Before the XX play, on a stage decorated with owl figurines, illuminated globes and lanterns, Brighton’s own Esben and the Witch entertain. This group seem to be the perennial support act in Brighton at the moment, but a billing with The XX is probably the bands most suited yet, in terms of an affiliated sound. Esben and the Witch are kindred spirits through their use of haunting female vocals, electronic drum patterns and moody soundscapes. They are however not as instantly loveable, their music being based less around melody. Instead Esben and the Witch concern themselves more with the dynamic of atmospherics, textures and clicking rhythms. Lead singer Rachel wears a Robert Smith Lullaby t shirt - and certainly Pornography and Disintegration era Cure seem to be reference points in their music, as is the possibility of an undead Portishead. It’s experimental music that is meticulously and selectively put together, the stuff of electric haunted houses and desolate landscapes. There are momentary blasts of Mogwai-esque dirty noise and fragile quiet moments that suffer from unwanted feedback interruptions, but overall the band provide more than enough justification for what they do. All three members of the group seem to immerse themselves fully into their sound, their guitarist almost violently so, and at the end he attempts to beat the life out of the single drum on stage before exiting out the back.

If there was a competition for cool, The XX would win hands down. They display a mix of studied intensity combined with a subtle and gentle nature that pushes them just to the periphery of distantness. With the whole band dressed in black, and plenty of jewellery chains on display, there’s a hint of urban goth to their self image. There is however something with this band that demonstrates that they have much more than just a fashion tag. There are the timid sweet thank you’s to the audience, the small smiles between vocalists Oliver (pictured) and Romy, the way their electronic drum pad player puts one hand in his pocket whilst playing - probably the most un rock n roll gesture ever, and of course let’s not forget the beautiful minimalist pop music that is played note perfectly. These are all reasons why The XX offer more, often through less, and achieve an unexpected coolness.

The cool factor is magnified by the fact that The XX are not the kind of band that are going to participate in high jinx tomfoolery, jumping or jiving around on stage. They line up at the front as a four piece; bordered by two glowing white X’s and deliver every song with a quiet confidence, including their now familiar cover of Teardrops by Womack and Womack. It’s songs such as VCR with its hypnotic exacting Cure (yes that band again) like guitar, and Shelter where Romy’s soulful downbeat deadpan voice ushers “Can I make it better, with the lights turned on,” that make you forget that you could just sit at home and listen to the album - such is the lack of the bands showmanship. It feels that standing in this virtually motionless crowd is something special, that you are watching songs being played that have depth - tunes that will last longer than whatever transient time period the bands coolness lasts for.

As the set comes to an end Oliver thanks Esben and the Witch for supporting, admitting that his band are “A little bit in love with them,” and thanks the audience for coming to watch their first ever headline tour. The applause is significant and the whole band look just a little bit bewildered at it. After they finish the call for an encore is long, but one is not forthcoming. Either The XX are humble enough to think they have not earned the right yet, or are just too composed for such gig clich├ęs, but either way this was an impressive performance deserving of a return to the stage.

How the band will deal with larger venues remains to be seen. It may be that some other visual presence is needed in bigger halls where sometimes even the music alone isn’t enough. But for now the music was all that was needed.



I'm gonna start this comment with a simple...Oh for fucks sake!

I've just left a slightly more damning comment on your more recent post about these guys, so perhap you can guess the tone of this next one...

Don't be fooled by this band. Even worse is to check out the hype and be sucked in, somehow convincing yourself that there's some hidden 'cool' in them. There isn't and you are better than that Robin. I love you dude, but please see through this blog-hyped mist...

You've actually said it yourself without realising. This band are boring and self-indulgent, with a tiny smidgeon of tunery that just about gets an OK, but nothing more. I'll try and make my point using your quotes...

"a gentle nature that pushes them just to the periphery of distantness" - Yes. They do. Right over the fucking edge of distantness in fact.

"urban goth" - What? Is that like a Hip Hop / Robert Smith crossover?

"the timid sweet thank you’s to the audience, the small smiles" - You and I know all great performances have a pair of bollocks. Timid is for that girl i thankfully dumped coz she didn't put out, when I was like, 13. Timid are those people I keep away from because their life is packed with average ordinariness. Where is either the aspiration, perspiration or indeed inspiration in a "small smile"?

"puts one hand in his pocket whilst playing" - OMG! We can't imagine Steve Harris or Tom Meighan trying that move now can we?

"downbeat deadpan voice" - In other words. BOOOOOOORING.

"the lack of the bands showmanship" - This is never cool. Please hear me. This is never, ever cool.

"virtually motionless crowd" - Something is telling me there were clues as to them not being a really "cool" band.

"The applause is significant and the whole band look just a little bit bewildered at it" - So they should be! Perhaps they are the only people that see the hype is worthless.

I adore your blog Robin and I know you will respond with some intelligent comment etc, but you gotta believe me when I say that this band are not worth the hype. I also know they will adorn many best of 2009 lists etc, but as you can see from me quoting you - You said it yourself.

(one very opinionated) Mike

...Have you got the impression I'm not into this band yet?

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Wow Mike, thanks for the rant ! This is the great great thing about music. There are a lot of bands we share lots of common ground on, but sometimes we are going to have to agree to disagree. For me the XX album is one of the finest of the year. There's nothing I'm going to be able to do to convince you, so I'm not going to even try any sort of argument - I value your opinion and understand where you are coming from, but personally I found the XX album and their live performance profoundly moving, and their songs beautifully and minimally constructed.

The one thing I will argue against though is that I am not getting pulled into the blog hype. I have always valued independent thought (which is why I think a 'negative' comment such as yours is quite brilliant) and everything I write I try to do as objectively as possible.

But the bottom line is I love these songs, and I really enjoyed this gig, without any detailed analysis, it just pulled the correct emotional levers for me.

Stay passionate about Music Mike, it's one of the things that makes a good blog rather than those who just post an MP3 with no thought so that they can get loads of hits and boost their ego.