ACL Review: The xx
London trio’s minimalism turns maximum on mainstage
By Libby Webster,
11:25AM, Sat. Oct. 7, 2017
The question ahead of the xx’s headlining slot on the Honda stage Friday evening was less “What will they play?” and more “How will it play?”
Neither 2009’s self-titled debut nor 2012’s Coexist beg to be seen live during a festival headlining set. The London trio’s music is clean and minimal, quietly sexy and brooding. While this year’s I See You plays out more robust, utilizing the beats that producer/percussionist Jamie Smith has come to be known for, most of the xx’s catalog hinges on sleepy closeness.
Vocalist/guitarist Romy Madley Croft, vocalist/bassist Oliver Sim, and Smith opened their 100th set this year with the instrumental, angular “Intro” followed by first breakout single, “Crystalised.” I See You’s “Lips,” “Dangerous,” and “On Hold,” all thundering, beats-driven bedroom rock, melded easily with the quieter, headier tracks of the xx past, like “Shelter,” “Islands,” and sugary love song “VCR.” Croft also took new track “Performance” to a stripped-down, gut-wrenching place.
Illuminating the stage in rainbow lights as an homage to Smith’s 2015 solo release, In Colour, the trio kicked into a cover of his banger “Loud Places.” That bled into “Say Something Loving” before understated “Angels” closed the hourlong set.
While expertly timed lights pulsed with the percussion and revolving reflective columns hummed around the stage, the band members themselves proved most thoroughly engrossing and earnest. Sim careened around the stage with his bass as he danced, almost dangerously so.
He and Croft seemingly expanded, taking up their own halves of the stage before meeting in the middle, necks of their instruments nearly touching, heads leaning in together, almost colliding but not quite. The chemistry between the two commanded a presence on a major stage but still channeled that palpable intimacy thrumming in the music.