June 08, 2010
by Crystal Clem

The XX

House of Blues | 6/8/2010

The xx played to a sold out sea of eager admirers last night at The House of Blues in downtown San Diego. After waiting for thirty confusing and frustrating minutes while fire alarms went off, emergency lights flashed, air conditioning ceased, and the smell of stale breath climbed, the sudden silhouette of frontwoman, Romy Madley Croft, towering behind the gauzy stage curtain, was a fittingly dramatic and welcome sight. The intensity was heightened by the pure and piercing tones of her single guitar, while the two additional forms of bassist/vocalist, Oliver Sim, and keyboardist Jamie Smith flashed.

Seconds later, the thin veil dropped, and lights blinked, exposing three young musicians, stoic and black-clad, no longer hidden to their devoted audience. The band floated into the song “Intro” and then transitioned into “Crystalised” which had the crowd instantly singing along with the haunting melody. The xx left no one wanting, and continued to play nearly all the tracks from their eponymous 2009 release as well as a new track they had only played twice before -- to which Sim warned “there is a good chance we could f*ck this up”... as you might have guessed, no one f*cked anything up. I was in a trance the duration of the set, but my moment came when I heard the opening bell like bings of “VCR”. The throaty vocals from Croft combined with the sweet innocent voice of Sim singing “but just know, you just do” simply take me somewhere else.

The best word I can use to describe The xx is: intoxicating. The actual music, full of throbbing bass, lulling noise, and clean contrasting guitar stands on its own, but it doesn’t stop there. The xx rises to the top because they present everything so earnestly and honestly. Maybe the appeal lies in the duality…their musical and emotional expression is so straightforward yet so layered, distilled and complex all in one. The experience is nothing less than captivating.

I just marveled at Croft’s face as she sang with furrowed brow “I can’t give it up to someone else’s touch because I care too much” and was struck by the honesty and genuine fervor of her expression. She bleed sincerity and emotion all over the stage, but with total dignity and effectiveness. She is measured and quiet while she pierces your heart with melancholic arrows. As she sings “sometimes I still need you” from the song “Heart Skipped a Beat,” her baby face, framed by a boyish haircut, tells a story with the measured longing of a woman who seems to have seen seventy five years of love’s spoils and scars, not a delicate twenty one.

It was as if the audience happened to stumble into a private session in The xx’s rehearsal space where there is no pretense or performance, just….expression.


All photos by Charles Bergquist - View more here.

Tags: House of Blues, Charles Bergquist, The XX, Crystal Clem

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