Live Review: The xx with Jon Hopkins at DC9, Washington DC – 15 November 2009

By on Wednesday, 18th November 2009 at 3:00 pm

On your side of the Atlantic, it was Steve Lamacq I believe who first tipped the xx as one of the bands to make waves in 2009. On this side, Pitchfork sang the praises of the band’s debut album in late summer, practically ensuring that hype would be following the band around wherever they went. So it follows that the news that the xx’s fourth member Baria Qureshi caused the band to cancel some European dates and subsequently decided to leave the band permanently would make headlines. The band decided recently at a London gig to continue as a three-piece and not replace Qureshi. To accommodate the loss of a bandmember, some changes had to be made to the stage show that I’m sure the band did not anticipate just weeks before. Percussion/electronics guru Jamie Smith works double time now, and some of the synth parts are now played by singer/guitarist Romy Madley-Croft. Despite these minor physical changes, I could not find a single fault with the xx’s headlining, sold-out performance at DC9 Sunday night. Well, except maybe for the lighting.

On many an occasion I’ve wondered to myself what kinds of electronic noise must be emanating from producer Paul Epworth‘s West London studio. And indeed, I had it in my mind that if I could choose from anyone on the planet, I’d want Paul to teach me how to play the synth. However, after seeing Londoner Jon Hopkins perform, I may have changed my mind. This was the first time I’ve had the opportunity of seeing an electronica artiste at work. When you listen to electronic music from an album, you, like me, probably envision someone sat in front of a computer console, hooked up to a multitude of electronic gizmos and thingamabobs, clicking a mouse here and pressing a button here. Hopkins’s performance in contrast was mesmerising. Flurries of buttons pushed, fingers sliding, and dials turning gave way to songs feeling as expansive as the night sky (and at one time, ringing out with thunder) to those as happening as the beats at your neighbourhood club down the street. And all under near darkness.

And now, for the main event – the xx. Guitar playing from Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim (bass) is wondrous to behold live. Because of the spareness of the guitars against the rest of the backing instrumentation, it becomes immediately clear that these two know what they are doing with their instruments, and being in their presence while they are playing feels like a gift. With both of their gentle, gorgeous voices, the overall sound is tight and confident, sultry and full of yearning. ‘Heart Skipped a Beat’ and the Womack and Womack cover of ‘Teardrops’ in particular were standouts to me, but really, the whole set was fantastic, and better than when I saw them open for Friendly Fires in New York in August.

Sim prefaced a cover of Filipino soul singer Kyla‘s ‘Do You Mind?’ with the comment, “we’ve only played it a handful of times, so it’s quite possible we’ll fuck it up“, but the caution was unnecessary because the song sounded great; Smith abandoned his desk for the song so he could beat on two drums stage right of Madley-Croft. Black Book Mag describes the xx’s music as “new indie lovemakin’ music“, a sobriquet that sounds laughable but I have to agree with the assessment. This may not be the kind of music to make you get up and dance, but surely the lush melodies will make you tingle and you will ache from inside out from the r&b-tinged loveliness. Catch them on their March 2010 UK tour if you can. I shall be seeing them again (twice on the same day) the first week of December in Boston. Fingers crossed.

After the cut: set list and my attempts at photos. (I told you it was dark!)

The xx photos




The xx set list
Heart Skipped a Beat
Basic Space
Do you Mind? (Kyla cover)
Teardrops (Womack and Womack cover)

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One Response

[…] and I had a feeling these were the kids that had missed out on the previous smaller headlining gigs at DC9 (November 2009) and Sixth and I Synagogue (March 2010). Little was said between songs (likely due to the […]

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