Thursday 6 September 2012

Review: The XX

As a child, if I came down with a fever, I always had the same dream. I would see two round objects move towards each other in an open space in slow motion. The closer they would get the more they would slow down. I would anticipate the big crash that was imminent but it would never come and the tension would just build and build. When I woke up, I was always drenched in sweat, exremely confused and it would take me several seconds to verify my surroundings and feel sane again. Somehow, watching the XX the other night reminded me of this, even though the band was good.

We didn't preview this gig. We didn't because I have never paid too much attention to the XX. Sure, some of the songs you hear on the radio are beautiful pop tunes. Of course we paid notice when the band played two gigs in one night at Astra a couple of years ago because demand was so high. And I absolutely know that they are a talented and relevant group. But what they do just hasn't gripped me. Hey, but given the chance to attend their only Germany date on this tour, in a theatre, seated, I would of course go.

There is a lot to be said for a really thought through stage set up and a good light show. However, it is a bit disconcerning when this seems to make up for the lack of something else. Starting with projections on a curtain, an incredible light show in black and white, strobe light and lazers included, and even smoke, this was a well directed show, thought out and performed to perfection. Though one couldn't help but feel that it made up for a lack of performance from the band itself. The lighting was set up in a way that you couldn't even see the group members' faces. The two front people wouldn't dance or interact with the audience in any way. The electronic musician in the band was turning knobs and buttons, as well as an occasional drum session, on seven devices behind which he was barricaded.

Musically, the band played to absolute perfection. You could have just recorded this gig, put it out as a record, and people would have thought this was done in a studio with a million tries. This band really knows how to play and sing. They are real musicians. And the songs are beautifully written - nobody is going to deny that. Dreamy, ambient pop pearls that transport you to a world of calm and thought and for some reason never have a proper ending. And I caught myself getting annoyed at a couple talking loudly behind me, something I would usually expect at any gig. But here, it was irritating. 

The whole gig reminded me strongly of the mediocre classical concerts that we used to go to when I was in high school. You were amazed at the craftsmanship, you watched as a non-participating audience member and it didn't really grip you. Your thoughts would be wandering and afterwards you would tell everyone how amazing it was, because that would make you a sophisticated grown-up person, something that was profoundly important to me as a 15-year-old.

So as a summary, the setting was beautiful, the show well thought-out, the musical performance meticulous, yet I couldn't really emotionally engage. Every songs, I was waiting for that big crash to happen, for the objects to collide, but it would never deliver. Somewhere along all that it lacked soul to me, probably from the lack of interaction with the audience. And the fact that even the standing members of the audience weren't dancing at all shows that the issue didn't just affect me. I will probably go see them again, I will go on to praise their craftsmanship, but I will not support the hype.

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