The xx – Hammerstein Ballroom – January 25, 2013
Both on record and during their live performances, London’s the xx have proved to be masters of dramatic tension. Although their music can be lush and layered, for the most part the band gives their songs room to breathe—spare guitar lines and plaintive vocals are followed by heavy pauses, and percussion often doesn’t kick in until mid-song. While this can be a potential test of patience on their records, live, the xx expertly play with these moments, building exhilarating tension as the crowd waits for that beat to kick in or that hook to start. Because of this, an xx show can feel like a well-executed tease.
At their sold-out show at the Hammerstein Ballroom on Friday night, the trio had the crowd in the palm of their hand from opening song “Angels”—performing the intro on a dark stage while obscured by a screen projected with abstract, shape-shifting images. As the beat kicked in, the screen dropped, revealing the black-clad band beneath three striking spotlights. But moments later, they were once again shrouded in darkness, and the song was over, like a sharp knife, expertly polished and leaving a clean cut.
The band performed a mix of newer songs from their 2012 album, Coexist, alongside crowd favorites like “VCR,” “Night Time” and “Crystalised” from their self-titled 2009 debut album. The moody, understated material and dim stage managed to create the intimate environment their music demands. The trio’s tunes have a subtle but undeniable inclination toward electronic music, and the dance breakdowns emphasized on songs like the steel drum–augmented “Reunion,” as well as “Night Time” and “Sunset,” contrasted the precise and exacting nature of the their music with moments of abandon and release. Of course, the xx were sure to cut off these uninhibited moments after not too long, always leaving us wanting more. —Alena Kastin