Vittorio Carli’s review of XX

The evocative and musically seductive English group, the XX came to the Chicago Theatre on Tuesday, September 28. The young, three person bands (they’re all around 21) has garnered near unanimous critical acclaim nearly overnight, and the last year’s debut CD was on countless top 10 lists (including the Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kott’s top 10). The live performance proves that they deserve most of the hype.

The XX consists of Romy Madley Croft on guitar, Oliver Sim on bass, and Jamie Smith on beats and MPC. On tour they use a drum machine, but ex member Baria Qureshi played drums in the studio for the debut LP (titled “The XX”.) The band’s sound is arty and high tech, but minimalist (they have more in common with Philip Glass or Brian Eno than Yes.)

But what really sets the band apart is the exquisite vocalzing and lyrics of Croft and Sim. They have known each other since kindergarten, and it’s obvious that they know each other intimately, In many songs, they go back and forth on vocals as if they are having a private conversation on the subtleties of love and longing (the only other group that I know that does this is the Moldy Peaches). They aren’t naturally gifted at singing, and I agree with Andrew Gasrig who wrote on Pitchfork.com that, “…they’re singing not because they have the best voices but because they have the most to say…”

The XX show started out with a huge XX being projected onscreen, and the band launched into their lovely and heart breaking instrumental track “Intro,” which included hushed whispers over delicate guitar and bass lines. Against the soft background the drums from the machine sounded thunderous.

The faces of the band members stayed obscured during the whole show from the smoke and lighting, so the performance visually reinforced the mysterious nature of the songs. The highlight of the show was the delicate, “Shelter” in which the narrator seems to be apologizing for hurting her lover. The very feminine and vulnerable sounding Croft sings “Maybe I have said/Something that was wrong/ can I make it better/with the lights turned on.” It could be that she is trying to fix the situation with the promise of sex but the meaning is intentionally ambiguous, which makes the song more memorable.

The last part of the show clearly had an outer space theme. “Basic Space” was adorned with extraterrestrial sounds which made the song echo the early Pink Floyd, and during the ephemeral “Stars, " it looked like a whole solar system was projected onstage. The LA based opening act, Warpaint also put on a good show. Their soft but slightly ambient guitar based sound make them reminiscent of early ‘80s post punk bands such as the Raincoats, Delta 5 and Young Marble Giants. The group did many songs from their “exquiSite corpse” EP as well as their forthcoming LP, “Fools” which is going to be released in October.

But there were some factors that detracted from the performances. The sound was terrible in the opening numbers, and Romy Madley Croft’s vocals were muffled in the first few songs (“especially during the song “Crystalised,” the group’s biggest hit, and their best song )

Also there were some extremely loud, obnoxious, and drunk people that were screaming and singing loudly during most of the evening, making it hard to hear some of the lyrics. There was a veritable army of security guards outside, so it’s hard to understand why there wasn’t anyone patrolling around inside to handle it. Also the Chicago Theatre people were very hard to deal with, and it was impossible to contact the publicity department. But overall the show was still quite strong, and the performers sounded very promising, and both bands may have great futures ahead of them.

Note: The exquiSite corpse was capitalized this way on the EP. Vittorio Carli teaches at Richard J. Daley College, and more of his writings can be found at www.reelmoviecritic.com and wwww.art interviews.com. He is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Society.

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