(Photo courtesy of LiveNation)
The xx are a band that thrive on tension, Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft slowly gliding across the stage before locking into a serpentine dance of seduction, as Jamie xx is submerged in the shadows, his drum machine hits often resembling the sound of a heart splitting into two. Their music plays out like a series of private conversations, and in a live venue it feels almost voyeuristic to be hearing what they have to say. Every time the two cross paths it's a moment of pure ecstasy. The dark curtain they hide behind is temporarily torn asunder and for fleeting moments they're together. "Separate or combine, I ask you one last time," Sim sings in that bellowing voice on "Chained," pointedly capturing that dynamic tension the xx have staked a claim on.
In a live setting, the music grows tenser, as Jamie's hypnotic drum programming threatens to erupt into a whirlwind of song. Croft likewise is constantly teetering on that precipice and the short guitar runs she gently eases into coil around your ears before disappearing into the air. Live, the guitar figure of "Angels" is breathtakingly simplistic, arriving with the sort of innocence that only a child could possess. Sim's bass has a weathered quality to it, his the voice of the lover that's played the parts before and still sets foot out on the stage. "Say you'll be there," he says on the alien-sounding "Try," attempting to recapture a relationship that's long since escape. The ability to fend off that separation comes in the form of a track like the bouncy "VCR" where the two are contented to bask together in the warm glow of a television screen.
In many ways their first album was about the innocent of love, and Coexist a master-course on the heartbreaking, soul-wrenching emotions that that love can often bring. And still there's a beauty to the music, no soaring peak possible without a valley to buffer it. Coexist's "Missing" is the perfect example of this careening. Sim's heart is in danger of pounding through his chest, every thud accompanied by his wondering of "will you miss me?" It's the overwrought realization that someone who brought you so much pain can still make you feel alive. The tension is at an apex when Sim collapses into the line, "and there's no hope for you and me." On the album the silence that follows is anxiety-inducing, and live it is deafening. Then the spotlight refocuses on Romy Madley Croft and her refulgent guitar swoops down into the dark abyss and saves Sim. For every moment of tension or trouble, these are still two people doggedly committed to one another, and tonight that commitment was on full display.
2. Heart Skipped A Beat
5. Far Nearer
9. Swept Away
10. Night Time