Thursday, September 30th, 2010
The xx and Warpaint at Massey Hall in Toronto
Frank YangWhen it was announced in June that The xx were not only coming back to Toronto for their fourth show in less than 10 months but doing it in a room far bigger and pricier than anything they’d done before, people thought they were mad. Now it doesn’t seem like madness so much as prescience. For starters, two of those three previous shows were support slots for acts who would have had no trouble selling out even without a buzz band opening and the third was at a room – The Phoenix – that was probably already undersized for them (it too was completely sold out). And really, all three of these shows were before the band REALLY blew up outside of indie circles, never mind the Mercury Prize win for their debut XX a few weeks ago. So was staging last night’s show at Massey Hall ambitious and unthinkable even as recently as a few months ago? Maybe. Was it the right thing to do? Yes, yes it was.
And while it would be presumptuous to suggest that Los Angeles’ Warpaint would find the same level of success as The xx in as short amount of time, they similarly didn’t seem to have any concerns about hitting their market saturation point – this was their third local show in less than four months and fourth in a year, and it’s still not enough as far as I’m concerned. Their debut The Fool, due out October 25, actually remains the last 2010 release that I’m looking forward to and haven’t heard yet and the fact that I won’t even contemplate my year-end lists until I’ve heard it should give you some idea of how much I’m anticipating it.
As to their show, it was interesting seeing how they translated into the much larger environs of a theatre having only experienced them in much more intimate club settings, and while the sound was murkier than ideal, their strengths – namely the thundering and undulating (thund-ulating?) rhythm section of Stella Mozgawa and Jenny Lee Lindberg and serpentine guitars and keening vocals of Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman – still came across loud and clear. And while the tempos they operated at made them sound like speed metal relative to The xx, their shared affinity for dark and dreamlike atmospherics should have impressed anyone who showed up in time to catch their 35-minute set; happily, there were quite a few of them but even if Massey had been empty, one suspects the band wouldn’t have noticed – once they started, the quartet were in their own world and seemingly playing just for themselves. We were just fortunate to get to watch.
Any question as to whether The xx could draw enough for a room the size of Massey Hall was moot before the house lights even went down – though not sold out, it was close enough to confirm that The xx were, indeed, huge. Even so, the ongoing complaint from some that their live show was lacking in charisma or stage presence have some basis, although I stand by my standard response of, “well what would you have them do – scissor kicks?” and maintain that their low-key demeanour is fitting to the music they make; they’re a soundtrack to what you get up to in the dark – it’s not about seeing so much as feeling. That said, The xx have improved their live show each time I’ve seen them and this time was the best yet. Perhaps not in terms of actual performance – there were more than a few missed notes and falling out of time with one another, perhaps a consequence of trying to get too loose up there – but for vibe, it was pretty special. For starters, I wager that this was the first time many of the 2500 or so in attendance had seen them play and the excitement in the room was palpable – these folks, who also seemed to have the youngest mean age of any full house I’ve ever seen at Massey Hall – were excited. And though the band were as polite but low-key as ever, when those seated in the floors spontaneously rushed the stage to dance or just get closer to their heroes during “Islands”, they seemed genuinely taken aback by the enthusiasm.
With an intimate delivery that was also possibly even slower and more sensual than on record and playing under a grand yet still somehow dark, meticulously synchronized light show, their set encompassed all of XX plus their cover of Womack & Womack’s “Teardrops”. As they’ve maintained there’s no new material ready to be aired or even any guarantee of a second album, the only “fresh” material came via in the instrumental intros, outros and inter-song segues that they used to expand and differentiate the live renditions from the album versions. The set barely clocked in at an hour including encore, but I didn’t get the sense that anyone felt they didn’t get their money’s worth – they heard everything they could have wanted to.
In a way, you almost hope that they don’t ever make a second record, if just to preserve the purity of their narrative arc thus far. Over a year and a half, these teenagers making music in obscurity have skyrocked to global fame, a Mercury Prize and massive tour of some of North America’s most hallowed venues, and their debut could stand as the single definitive statement of The xx, a document of their youth preserved in amber. In reality, this almost certainly won’t be the last we hear from The xx, but if it were? That’d be okay.
Photos: The xx, Warpaint @ Massey Hall – September 29, 2010
MP3: The xx – “Basic Space”
MP3: Warpaint – “Undertow”
MP3: Warpaint – “Elephants”
MP3: Warpaint – “Billie Holiday”
Video: The xx – “Islands”
Video: The xx – “Basic Space”
Video: The xx – “Crystalised”
Video: Warpaint – “Stars”
Video: Warpaint – “Elephants”
MySpace: The xx
Film School and The Depreciation Guild, both of whom will be at the El Mocambo on October 4, have each released new videos from their latest albums Fission and Spirit Youth, respectively. Wired talks to Film School’s Greg Bertens.
Spoonfed and Austinist have interviews with The Morning Benders, who premiered a new song in their Take-Away Show for Le Blogotheque. It may well be in rotation by the time they play The Mod Club on November 5.
Exclaim has details on the inevitable deluxe edition of The National’s High Violet which will be available on November 22. The good news is all the bonus tracks will be available a la carte via the usual digital retailers.
Peaches will be celebrating the holiday season this year with her production of Peaches Christ Superstar, the content of which should be self-explanatory (but Spinner explains anyways). The touring production wraps December 21 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto.
And all those Neil Young videos from Le Noise are indeed parts of a larger filmic whole, and it’s available to watch in its entirety over at YouTube starting today. Young discusses the album with The New York Times.
This is going to be about it for this week; off to Las Vegas tomorrow morning for Matador 21 and I’d normally be reporting all about it but… what happens in Vegas and all that. But you can follow along thanks to the magic of the internet as most of the sets will be streaming at MySpace – details at Matablog. And also check out this oral history of Matador Records at MySpace, with two parts up and the final one tomorrow. ‘Tis good reading.