If the xx’s brand of hypnotic and soulful groove-making is best heard on a pair of headphones or privately in a dark bedroom, then the British trio that visited the sold-out Fillmore Miami Beach on Tuesday night performed a set that was anything but intimate. In fact, the show was a bright, grandiose, reverberating affair, and at length felt like the great unraveling of a long relationship, or perhaps a bitter, protracted divorce, piecing heartfelt material evenly between the band’s self-titled debut album and last September’s sophomore release, “Coexist.”
This apparent contradiction is rooted, of course, in the band’s knack for recording melancholy notes teased out with ambient electronic sampling, and from bassist Oliver Sim’s and guitarist Romy Madley Croft’s insistence on a quiet, unbothered lifestyle in the U.K. But throughout the night, Sim and Croft, along with producer Jamie Smith, defied the bright, grand stage they stood on and the hollering capacity crowd of mostly twentysomethings by doing what they do best: retreating to the darkness.
Spending their brisk 75-minute set cloaked in shadow and fog, or half-masked in the twinkling neon-greens and purples of the footlights, or imprisoned under twin spotlights set far apart on the stage, Sim and Croft traded off melodies of love and torment starting with their opener, “Angels.” (Yes, the trio wore all-black clothing, too.) The light show was part of the gimmick, strobing out to Smith's deep kick drums or flashing in sync to Croft's guitar-plucking. None of this is to say the xx’s set wasn’t short of poignancy: Croft, with her side-swept bangs, and hair terminating in dagger-shaped sideburns, delivered heartfelt lyricism in “Sunset” near the concert’s halfway mark (“It's like the sun set in your eyes and never wanted to rise”). Sim’s solo on “Fiction,” also from the new album, rang out with all the sing-speak urgency – which is to say, none at all – of a ‘70s Lou Reed, back when Reed actually wanted to sing.
In a set that hopscotched between both albums equally, the xx saved their most-mellow tracks – the elegiac, filled-with-lover’s-remorse “Shelter” and “Swept Away” – for the show’s midpoint, with both sounding like a slow march to a funeral. Croft’s lyric, “Maybe I said something that was wrong/Can I make it better with the lights turned off?” was stamped with enough emotion that the Fillmore’s audience swooned to the refrain, and at least one person actually flicked a Bic near front row (they still do that?).
The jaunty beat-making in the xx’s second-act closer, “Infinity,” was undercut, however, by Sim’s and Croft’s scarce onstage charisma, who each swapped vocals with a glassy-eyed gaze and rarely looked at each other, save a longing glance during “Chained” early in the set. Missing from the show, really, was that big burst of charisma needed for the live setting, as opposed to the reclusive, soft-spoken trio we know from our headphone-listening. There was little interplay between the pair, who are best friends in real life, and even less from Smith, who held court in the background, mostly in silhouette, showing fleeting signs of life with occasional shoulder-popping behind his long table of samplers, drum machines and keyboards.
The xx encored, to no one’s surprise, with “Intro,” the two-minute chill acoustic hit, and closed with “Tides” and “Stars,” the latter being their debut album’s closing track. In between, Sim, raising a hand to silence the crowd, said, “We’re bewildered that you guys continue to love our music.”
And, perhaps as a perfect counterpoint to the band’s stoicism all night, the crowd cheered in response.
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