Photos and Review by John Bentley

The xx

Today is a rather special date in the calendar. Not only is it 12-12-12, but it’s also the first visit to Wolverhampton for The xx. The concert is sold out and there is excitement in the air. There is certainly plenty of band merchandise being shifted, with designer xx carrier bags in abundance. The xx’s sound is a defined by whispered vocals, often sparse instrumentation and very personalised lyrics about relationships. The question is how their subtle material will come over in such a big venue. We are about to find out that the band’s apparently small sound works brilliantly in a cavernous hall.

The xx

The xx burst on the scene from nowhere in 2009, with their acclaimed debut album, which topped many end of year ‘best-of’ polls. 2012 has seen the release of their new album, ‘Coexist’, which has also been well received. Tonight we get a mixture of songs from both albums. At 9.20pm the lights finally go down in the packed-out hall and we see the band hazily glimpsed through the translucent white curtain draped across the front of the stage. A good entry. They kick-off with ‘Angels’, the delicate lead track from the new album. The curtain falls away and the band launches into ‘Heart Skips a Beat’, one of many tracks with the characteristic trading of male / female vocals between principal members Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft.

The xx

The albums have a rather sparse sound, but in concert, the songs seem to really expand to fill the space and they become almost symphonic at times. If anything, the The xx sound better live than on the studio albums. There is certainly more tension and excitement in the live renditions, largely because of the obvious close relationship between Sim and Madley Croft, which is so visually apparent on stage. The band exudes confidence and presence and the audience listens with a good deal of reverence, although they do join in with singing towards the end. While a large part of the audience is young, it is still quite a mixed crowd, indicating the wide appeal of The xx.

The xx

The production of the show turns out to be immaculate, with impeccably crisp sound and spectacular lighting, which fits the mood of the songs. Much of the time the band play in near darkness, notably on ‘Shelter’, with its fitting lyrics, ‘Maybe I had said something that was wrong, can I make it better with the lights turned out’. This is one of the highlights of the evening. The band apologise for taking so long to get around to visiting Wolverhampton and seem almost dazed by the audience reception – this can be seen from the looks on the faces of Madley Croft and Sim in the photograph of them together at the front of the stage, looking into the crowd.

The xx

The gig finishes with ‘Infinity’, with its repeated refrain of ‘I can’t give it up’ and the band leave the stage to clattering guitar feedback. They are soon back on for a three song encore, starting with the catchy guitar instrumental ‘Intro’ and finishing with ‘Stars’, another conversation between Madley Croft ands Sim about love. Overall tonight is a very convincing performance by a band at the height of their powers. The big question for the future is how The xx will progress and take forward the trademark sound from their first two albums – the traditionally ‘difficult’ third album looms.

The xx
The xx

Support tonight is provided by Mmoths, a three piece electronic band, who make some interesting sound collages. Main man is Jack Colleran, from Ireland, who takes centre stage, together with a drummer and a bass player who expand the sound.

Mmoths

The xx setlist: Angels; Heart Skipped a Beat; Fiction; Crystalised; Fantasy; Missing; Reunion; Sunset; Night Time; Swept Away; Shelter; VCR; Islands; Chained; Infinity. Encore: Intro; Tides; Stars.

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