“I’m feeling very patriotic,” Oliver Sim mutters ahead of his mid-set party piece ‘Fiction’, and a previously blissed out crowd suddenly tense, in case The xx’s stratospheric rise is about to take a sudden turn for the Morrissey. But no, he reminisces fondly about the royal wedding, celebrates the sunshine and entreats us to “celebrate your city, celebrate yourselves”, because The xx’s phenomenal success is built on binding people with tiny kindnesses and splayed vulnerabilities. “I think my heart just broke,” a grown man behind us says at one point in their set. Then, “did I say that out loud?”
They’re that kind of band. Who knew that a mixture of sparse Joy Division guitar lines, spectral ambient electronic textures and Everything But The Girl could touch so many souls, but there’s something about the shimmering emotion and poignant quietude of songs like ‘Sunset’ and the gorgeous ‘Say Something Loving’ that makes them capable of bewitching vast fields of damp-eyed booze-hounds. Police should be pumping these tracks onto the night tube; the UN should deploy The xx to volatile international borders and pressure-cooker warzones. They’re universal Xanax.
They’ve also perfected the maudlin big gig aesthetic. The godheads of Generation Sullen take the stage to the fanfares and subtle skitterbeats of ‘Dangerous’, beneath sparse and monochrome slashes of light that might have Bertolt Brecht pining for a rainbow glitterball. Yet it’s the ideal backdrop for music of such clinical chill, emphasising the emptiness at the heart of these pained, pulsing paeans. You’d almost believe that the silent lightning strobing over London towards the end of the show is The xx’s doing.
The real revelation for their live show, though, was the moment their records started being haunted by some sort of benevolent EDM phantom. Tonight it first rears up in ‘Reunion’, in which Romy Madley Croft perfectly captures that feeling of waking up to the dull thud of insistent beats and realising you’ve accidentally rented a flat above a Dalston basement club – she even mutters bits of Madonna’s ‘Ray Of Light’ like it’s circling around her head stopping her from getting back to sleep. And after a minor mid-set slump where one David Lynch soundtrack audition seeps into another, EDM pumps the final third to euphoric heights, with ‘Shelter’ getting Jamie Smith’s remix treatment, a mini DJ set breaking out during ‘Loud Places’ and a fantastic ‘On Hold’ sending large chunks of the crowd, in some kind of mass delirium, into a lasso-spinning rodeo dance.
It’s these gentle party pumpers that’ll keep the crowds coming back, but the cold and haunting likes of ‘Test Me’ and Romy’s closing ‘Angels’ that will stick in their souls, triumphs of atmosphere and restraint. If your heart didn’t break, you’re already dead.