Every once in a while a band comes along and skews the curve and dislodges assumptions about the music landscape. The XX is one of those bands.
A trio comprising two vocalists who play guitar and bass plus a creator of various noises and embellishments, the XX render music that is hypnotic, spacey, austere, nocturnal and gloomy. At their liveliest, its songs are cosmic disco anthems; at their most downtempo, they’re gothic hymns. Much of it is appealing but nothing you would call mainstream.
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Yet, Tuesday night, the band from London drew more than 1,900 enthusiastic fans into the Uptown Theater, nearly selling out the joint. It gave everyone a visual feast of lights, lasers and fog and 70 minutes of music rendered in various shades and weights of darkness and grave. Despite the redundancies in dynamics or mood from one song to the next, the prevailing response all night was rapture.
The XX is led by guitarist and vocalist Romy Madley Croft and her co-leader and co-vocalist, bassist Oliver Sim. Behind them, Jamie Smith (or Jamie XX) fortifies their songs with keyboards and percussion that is both live and programmed.
Croft’s and Sim’s voices are yin-yang: His is deep and sonorous; hers is luscious and angelic, bearing a strong resemblance to Tracey Thorn’s of Everything But the Girl. When they harmonize, the results can be as haunting as they are beautiful.
Likewise, their instruments deepen the songs’ noirish hues. The skeletal peals and chimes of Croft’s guitar are elemental to the band’s sound, her tones providing another eerie voice. During “Infinity” it evoked the feel of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games”; other times it vaguely suggested a few ’80s bands.
The set list included favorites from the breakout debut album “The XX,” released in 2009, and its follow-up, the quieter and more austere “Coexist.” One or two of those songs created lulls or moments of tedium in a show that was otherwise transcendent and engaging.
The crowd was obviously more familiar with the first album. Songs like “Heart Skipped a Beat,” “Crystalised,” “Night Time,” “Islands,” “VCR” and even the instrumental “Intro” got loud ovations. But fans showed their familiarity with “Coexist,” too, giving “Fiction” a big ovation. During the twilit “Angels,” which closed the show, a large portion of the audience sang the chorus along with Croft, like the crowd at a Taylor Swift show: “They would be in love with you as I am / They would be in love.”
It goes to show: Sometimes the darkness truly is the light.