Monday, July 30th, 2012
The xx and Jacques Greene at The Phoenix in Toronto
Frank YangThe arc around The xx’s 2009 debut xx was a narratively perfect one, rich with mystery, sex, and drama as the London trio vaulted from obscurity to Mercury and, most prestigiously, a place on my year-end list. And perhaps most crucially for a perfect story, they ended. Or at least went away for a while.
Real life differs from stories, however, in that it generally doesn’t let you just ride off into the sunset, and so after some deserved downtime – okay, Jamie Smith, aka Jamie xx, continued to establish himself as a highly sought-after DJ, remixer, and producer but his bandmates Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim did a pretty good job of staying out of sight – the trio announced their second album would be entitled Coexist and be out on September 11. But before that and between a slew of European festival appearances, a compact tour of the new world to refresh their fans’ memories, if it was needed. And if you don’t feel like reading the rest of the review, I’ll offer a spoiler – it wasn’t.
Support for the tour came from Montreal’s Jacques Greene, and while he’s done a job of establishing his name as both a producer and artist, live he was a two-man operation, accompanied by labelmate Ango on working the samplers and sequencers to create solid grooves of electronic, R&B beats. He was also the de facto frontman when the pair shifted gears a couple times for some slow jams that didn’t astonish, but did offer a nice change of pace from the rest of their set. If you came to The xx from their indie guitar-based side, it might have been a bit unexpected as an opener but if you focused on their dancier side and turned the BPM up a bit, it made perfect sense. And both Greene and Ango looked like they could be stunt doubles for Oliver Sim, so there was that too.
Considering that by the end of the xx cycle, The xx were selling out Massey Hall, returning to a room the size of The Phoenix where they made their Toronto debut opening for Friendly Fires in December 2009 should have been a great chance to recapture some of the intimacy that so suits their music before they’re lost forever to much larger venues, but one of the things that this show made quite clear is that it’s very difficult to create that sort of intense, minimalist vibe when you have a thousand people singing along – and that wasn’t only for the old material. The show opened with the first official taste of Coexist, the week-old “Angels”, and even on that Madley-Croft had an unofficial backing choir of hundreds who’d already committed its lyrics to heart.
The one-hour, ten-minute show gave the audience pretty much everything they could have wanted. There was xx in its entirety, but with a few tracks essentially remixed live – “Crystalised” was essentially transformed into an ambient piece and others were more subtly transformed for greater dynamics and dramatic effect – and a half dozen selections to preview Coexist. In broad strokes, the new material doesn’t sound too far removed from the old – certainly it will take a copy of the finished album and a good pair of speakers or headphones to fully appreciate the growth in their songwriting and production – but comments that Smith had made in the press about this record being more dance-influenced were not idle. While Madley-Croft and Sim’s roles as frontpersons remained as they ever were, Smith made it clear through how his beats – including some on acoustic drums – drove the show that he was their musical backbone, their man behind the curtain (or perspex ‘X’ DJ tables), and wherever he wanted to take them would be where they went. And circa Coexist, he’s feeling the dance – main set closer “Swept Away” was pretty much a rave.
While neither Madley-Croft or Sims have ever seemed particularly fussed about their onstage charisma – some complain about their understatedness but I’ve always found it to be perfectly suited to their music – they certainly seemed to have more presence this time than their past visits. Certainly part of this was the elaborate lighting effects, projections, and smoke machines that accompany them onstage, but also a result of their continued growth and comfort level as performers. And it’s a good thing they seem to be feeling comfortable up there – based on the strength of this preview of Coexist and the obvious appetite their fanbase still has for them, The xx are going to be on the road for a long time.
Photos: The xx, Jacques Greene @ The Phoenix – July 28, 2012
MP3: The xx – “Angels”
MP3: The xx – “Open Eyes” (demo)
MP3: The xx – “Basic Space”
MP3: Jacques Greene – “Motivation”
MP3: Jacques Greene – “Sorted”
MP3: Jacques Greene – “Arrow”
MP3: Jacques Greene – “Another Girl”
Video: The xx – “Islands”
Video: The xx – “Basic Space”
Video: The xx – “Crystalised”
Video: Jacques Greene – “Another Girl”
Video: Jacques Greene – “Tell Me”
Stream: Bloc Party – “Day Four”
Japanese classical post-rock quartet Mono will release their new album For My Parents on September 4 and stage a massive North American tour with a stop at The Horseshoe on September 12; Chris Brokaw of Come/Codeine/The New Year fame will open up. Mono’s last visit in May 2010 was epic, and not in that hyperbolic way that the word is typically used nowadays. It was literally epic.
Very disappointed to report that I Break Horses have cancelled the whole of their Fall North American tour, including September 19 at The Drake. They’re promising to make it up in 2013 though, so there’s that.
Video: Taken By Trees – “Dreams”
The first single from Bat For Lashes’ new album The Haunted Man is now available to download. It’s out October 23.
Video: Ladyhawke – “Blue Eyes”