Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, July 28
The xx look moody. But then The xx always look bloody moody. “Don’t be shy, you’re BRILLIANT!” yells someone, capturing the popular mood. The fans might be providing moral support tonight, but producer Jacques Greene goes one better. Garbed head to toe in black (he got the memo) and joined by fellow Montreal man Ango, the Radiohead-remixing brainbox dashes obsessively about his minimal stage space, going about his business of peppering slow, ecstatic synths with a hail of bleeps and ticks. Oliver xx peeks sternly round the curtain, as the powerhouse of ‘Prism’ rockets us somewhere several thousand feet above heaven, and just like that everyone forgets about the wimpy British trio on headline duty…
Just kidding! Shrouded in billowing smoke and faux-spiritual light, The xx open, appropriately, with ‘Angels’. Just under two weeks after it first hit YouTube, the crowd coo it back word for word like it’s an old favourite, which in the internet age it kind of is. ‘Islands’ follows to remind you that, for all Jamie xx’s tricksy tinkering, loved-out crooners Romy and Oliver still know a nifty way round a riff. Part-blinded by the smoke, Jamie stands silhouetted above the controls of what looks like a space-hub assembled with tat collected from the set of Star Trek The Musical. It features tiny synths on transparent pods, a miniature drumkit and four – four! – full-size keyboards, all of which boast weird antennae. He has the air of a man who stocks up on that stuff because it sounds fucking ace, not just because a magazine told him to.
His influence is all over the texture-driven likes of new songs ‘Sunset’ and ‘Swept Away’. A reworked ‘Crystalised’ is stripped down to meaningful, mellow whooshes, transporting fraught vocals upon a winged vehicle of sorrow and splendour. ‘Unfold’ and ‘Fiction’, meanwhile, go some way to prove that reverb-elevated guitar fiddlery still has a place in the band. ‘Fiction’ has become a virile, bowel-rumbling menace of a song that sees Oliver unsling bass, take centre-stage and slide into a sultry break-up jam. Jamie drops in the sub bass and a shouty hipster shits himself with glee, pointing at the purple lights and grinning so wide his sunglasses tumble off his head. By the time they hit the UK in September, they’ll be roaring.