I don’t pay too much attention to bands that are hot on the internet: the p4k bands, the blog-hyped bands, the college bands, the hipster bands. But a few of my friends like The xx and I listened to them enough, and liked them enough, to check them out at 6th & I Synagogue on a Sunday afternoon.
It was a strange show. Weirdly, I was both impressed and disappointed at the same time, but it was a pleasant way to spend an hour. It gave me several things to reflect and pontificate upon.
(They played two shows back-to-back — I was at the first but I can’t tell which show the following videos were taken at.)
So what impressed me about The xx was the sound quality, the guitar playing (occasionally it reminded me of The Cure), and the integration of electronics into their music. I have been grappling for a while with the problem of electronic rock in performance and am sort of reaching a breakthrough on what I would like to see regarding this particular dialectic. Basically it works like this:
- THESIS: Play real instruments live if you want to call it rock and roll
- ANTITHESIS: It is cool to write music on a computer, and cheap and effective to just hit play on an iPod while you sing and prance about
- SYNTHESIS: Play some real instruments live; don’t try to just pipe in pre-programmed electronic music; have a designated person who can play keyboards, turn knobs, bang on a drum occasionally, and generally make the electronic music visually interesting.
The xx pulled off this synthesis as well as anyone I’ve seen; they had a third guy doing all kinds of cool stuff, including taking to a drumkit at one point. Thanks, xx! This is what I am looking for in electronic-based rock music.
The negative side to this concert was that The xx’s live music, while it sounded great, came across as more conventional and less quirky than their album suggested. There is something sort of unique about the album: it has a dreamy oddness to it that caught my ear and made it stand out (a little) from the crowd of similar bands. The recording is intimate, and the songs are skeletal and fragile, and it doesn’t sound exactly like anything else. I went into the concert not expecting that sound to translate well to a large audience — and it probably wouldn’t have. They scaled it up and fleshed it out a bit for the live show, and again, I thought it sounded good, it just lost a little something that made the recording intriguing in the first place. I am not sure what else they could do, though.
I was a little surprised to see the passion of their fans. This is a band that has only been in the public consciousness for like 6 months, and only has like 40 minutes of recorded music to their name. I can see really liking The xx — but can you love a band that is so new? Could they be your favorite band? It seems unlikely, but I guess I am old and cynical. I will let the kids have their silly crushes…
The other thing at this show was that I felt like I was coming at the performance from a much different angle than most people. My methods of discovering and listening to music are hopelessly retro. I knew all the songs from listening to their album, but I had this feeling like everybody else knew them from some other source: a blog-based hit, or a tv show soundtrack, or something.
I had the feeling most strongly when they played their encore song, “Stars,” and the crowd went nuts. Is this their popular song? How would I know? I am out of the loop. Oh well. It was pretty good stuff: