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Live Review: the xx Will See You Now

The xx put on a Performance (photo: MP)

the xx

O2 Academy Brixton, London (09/03/17)

Everybody loves a good homecoming reception. South London collective the xx have the pleasure of savouring theirs across an entire week, having sold out a seven-night run at Brixton’s O2 Academy to conclude their 2017 European tour. And as if a week’s residency in the 4,900-capacity venue wasn’t quite festive enough, the celebrations have been further embellished by a sprawling line-up of additional shows, parties, film screenings and radio events which the group have curated as part of the area’s Night + Day festival. For a group whose beginnings were so rooted in tense silences and whispered revelations, their current circumstances would seem to indicate an unabashed embrace of the limelight.

Yet such assumptions would be wide of the mark; in truth, it’s easy to see why the group pulled out all the stops for this particular return. As Oliver Sim emphasised during a fervent speech at the close of their second night’s set, this part of the world has been a stomping ground for all three members of the group since childhood. Treating the audience to a quick trip down memory lane, Sim recalled the night that his mum dropped him and bandmate Jamie ‘xx’ Smith off at this very venue to see the White Stripes: the first gig that either young’un had ever attended. This kind of “I never dreamed it’d be me up here” patter is common enough at any given live show, but Sim’s words carried a genuine charge, and the kick that the trio get from performing here – not to mention the adulation they receive from crowds on home turf – was immediately palpable. As with the xx’s music, through the nerves and shy wordplay, there’s a resolute honesty underpinning every move they make.

Speaking of, one of the main pleasures to be experienced when witnessing the group in a live capacity is a refreshed appreciation for their unaffected intimacy. The tight-knit friendship between the performers was discernible throughout, from wide-eyed glances between songs to a few clumsy hugs at the set’s climax. Likewise, the anxiety from which their songwriting springs was charmingly apparent: Sim and Romy Madley Croft fumbled through their brief speeches with quavering voices and helpless grins, their hearts clearly overwhelmed by the deafening, drawn-out applause that crowned several of the evening’s highlights.

The group were well-equipped to make the most of their extended tenure in the Academy: flanked by rotating pylons of mirrored glass and with a reflective ceiling that dipped and tipped throughout the night (showing off Smith’s impressive array of tech in the process), it was a marvellous set-up which would surely have dwarfed the group were their own figures not so quietly magnetic to behold. The result was a show of controlled tension-and-release, complemented with the kind of light spectaculars that seemed to directly channel the emotional eddies conjured in the music, from bristling agitation (‘A Violent Noise’, ‘Infinity’) to dewy-eyed tenderness (Croft’s spotlit solo rendition of ‘Performance’).

Teed up by the lush cascades of ‘Say Something Loving’, the xx’s set offered a democratic run throughout three albums’ worth of treasures. The contributions from their first two records work a stark magic that’s enough to fill the lofty recesses of venues such as this (Madley-Croft’s guitar lines revereberated from wall to wall like great shafts of light), but there were particularly fine results to be heard when the group tinkered with longstanding favourites, marrying the spectral sounds of old with the newfound mettle present in I See You and Smith’s own In Colour. A late highlight was reached across a seamless segue from ‘Fiction’ into the ever-beautiful ‘Shelter’, before the trio allowed the night to ascend heavenwards on the golden harmonies and choice samples of ‘Loud Places’, which closed the main set on a giddy, stratospheric high.

Although several of their renditions couldn’t quite silence the yakking of a handful of loudmouthed punters, the xx provided a beautiful experience that was moving in all the right ways. The frequent moments in which the whole hall was flooded with light drew subtle attention to how keen the xx currently are to connecting with their fanbase, and the nature (and aesthetic) of these performances goes some distance to disambiguating the meaning behind I See You’s title. The xx may still dabble in the shadows, but they’ve been peering out at the rest of the world ever since their intimations were first discovered. And on nights like this one, the gaze they return to the crowds brims with a heartfelt gratitude.

Setlist

Say Something Loving // Crystallised // Islands // Lips // Sunset // Basic Space // Performance // Brave For You // Infinity // VCR // I Dare You // Dangerous // Chained // A Violent Noise // Fiction // Shelter // Loud Places // On Hold // Intro // Angels

10/03/17

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Live Review: Hot Chip (Ready for the Floor-Fillers)

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In colour: Hot Chip wrap their first night at the O2 Academy Brixton (photo: MP)

Hot Chip

O2 Academy Brixton, London (22/10/15)

Promising a bounteous trove of some of the past decade’s best-loved dance-pop and a seemingly neverending supply of confetti in all the colours of the rainbow, Hot Chip’s double-whammy of London shows concluded their UK tour in characteristically sprightly style. In the wake of the group’s magnificent and rapturously-received headline set at this summer’s Green Man Festival, I was particularly keen for an extra dose of Hot Chip magic, going as far as to bring my dad along for the ride for the first of two consecutive sets at Brixton’s O2 Academy. The cross-generational appeal is symptomatic of Hot Chip’s blossoming universality down the years; no longer do they singularly capture the minds of twentysomething throwback nostalgists; now they’re as close to a household name as any of their contemporaries, able to pack popular venues with fans of all ages.

Support from Lonelady was revelatory to the uninitiated, setting the bar high for the musical feast to follow, and throwing light on Julie Ann Campbell as an artist well worth discovering after the house lights went up. Campbell and her airtight, smartly-dressed live band spent forty minutes working six songs into dynamic, finely-tiered vehicles of funk-flecked alt-pop. Seamlessly flowing from a slinky rendition of ‘To the Cave’ through the nimble-wristed guitarwork of ‘Hinterland’ and ‘Silvering’, the impressive performance concluded with the tastefully ecstatic ‘Groove it Out’, drawn out to an effortless ten minutes. Campbell proved her chops and then some, highlighting herself as an artist clearly snubbed of a crack at this year’s Mercury Prize. (Not that the award is considered all that prestigious these days.)

From cool-as-funk to hot-as-shit, Hot Chip’s own set was something of a victory lap for fifteen years of solid tune-crafting. With a balanced set that drew well from each of the band’s major releases (though much more time could have been given over to In Our Heads‘ material, in this fan’s humble opinion), Alexis Taylor and co. reminded the Academy’s patrons of just how impressively ubiquitous the group have become in the British music scene, as well as how delightfully euphoric and unselfconscious their live sets are renowned to be. With the group’s fashion sense largely reined in (with the exception of Al Doyle and his pristine white ensemble), focus was on movement and spectacle, with the team’s comfort onstage clearly demonstrated through shapes and grins pulled all round. The dense throb of opener ‘Huarache Lights’ exemplified everything Hot Chip do so well in a live capacity, right down to the cracking sight of Doyle and Owen Clarke bopping along in sync.

At the core of the show was Sarah Jones, who barely broke a sweat while anchoring the entire set with a broad display of rhythms and skittering beats, her drumming the bedrock of a show which quickly grew hyperkinetic. ‘Over and Over’ ignited a feverish reaction in the crowds, as dozens shouldered their way forward to wave gangly limbs to Taylor’s “laidback” hook. It marked the most raucous display in a set bookended with banging fan favourites, and although the gig’s midsection largely kept the tempo to a slower average, hearing the band dust down gems such as ‘Shake a Fist’ and the lovely ‘Alley Cats’ helped lighten the sweatiness with sweetness.

A slow-building encore highlighting past greats crescendoed with Hot Chip’s triumphant cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’, now a requisite end-of-show treat, replete with Rob Smoughton’s guitar heroics and a holy blizzard of confetti. After seguing into the first verse of LCD Soundsystem’s ‘All My Friends’, the septet bowed out on a note of bittersweet warmth, teeing up their homecoming with one of modern music’s greatest works of songcraft. Hot Chip have made such a mixture of smarts and sincerity their trademark, and as they continue to broadcast joy with their goofy live antics and warm-blooded records, surely few can deny their hearts.

Setlist

Huarache Lights // One Life Stand // Night and Day // Love is the Future // Flutes // Over and Over // Alley Cats // Cry for You // Shake a Fist // Need You Now // Ready for the Floor // I Feel Better // Why Make Sense? // We’re Looking for a Lot of Love // And I Was a Boy From School // Hold On // Dancing in the Dark / All My Friends