On a brief North American tour to preview songs from their forthcoming second album Coexist and with two years having passed since the trio last toured their Mercury Prize winning self titled album, The XX look and sound more confident and relaxed on stage than ever before. Romy Madley-Croft Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith spend the show cloaked in a thick fog of smoke, with occasional white beams of light penetrating through the darkness. The atmospheric stage setting – with the band in silhouette throughout the evening – is the perfect complement to Croft and Sim’s delicate interplay and quiet vocals.
They open with new single ‘Angels’ a song which perfectly exemplifies the haunting minimalist soundscape that endeared them to so many on their debut album. “Light reflects from your shadow; it is more than I thought could exist,” Croft whispers, as though telling a capacity crowd her most intimate secrets. This, for many, is the first glimpse of what to expect on the new album and the set list soon transitions into a long stream of songs from their debut. ‘Islands’ goes straight into ‘Heart Skipped A Beat’ and everyone in the crowd sings along with every word, which is sometimes a rarity in this city; to have that level of response from the crowd.
Another new track, ‘Fiction’, has Sim ditching the bass and shifting centre stage with his glowering, slow-prowl vocal style looming over the crowd. The night’s wealth of Coexist material is quite impressive on first listen, particularly ‘Reunion’ – a hushed duet that sinks into an ether of twinkling guitars and Smith’s percussive mix of bass drops and steel drums – and ‘Sunset’, an elusive duet with sexually charged lyrics around “tired of playing games” and wanting to be “more than friends” backed by a thumping beat.
However the new material doesn’t deviate greatly from their previous album. Most of the songs are still concerned with their traditional themes of sex, love, heartbreak, regret but they take the band’s characteristically harmonic riffs and pair them with upbeat dance rhythms. This influence can, perhaps, be attributed to Jamie’s solo work over the past few years. Previously Jamie has claimed he felt like a silent partner onstage, but he is busy during tonight’s performance, switching from synths, rhythm and beat modules to a variety of drums – resulting in the band’s sound becoming fuller and more intricate in the process with more electronic depth and percussive variation than before.
While they used to replicate their studio tracks live, they now seem to have a found confidence in their abilities. Smith’s big beats kick the proceedings up a notch, particularly during older songs like ‘Infinity’ and ‘Shelter’. For ‘Basic Space’ Croft and Sim sing parts a cappella and when the latter resumes playing his instrument, it is still sufficiently feint while the two lonely voices intertwine around each other.
Instrumental and crowd favourite, ‘Intro’ begins the encore before ‘Tides’, another new song, featuring Sim and Croft harmonizing on the words “I wouldn’t just leave us alone,” utilizing The XX’s glorious use of space and silence. The older songs still sound intimately epic while the new material both consolidates their strongest elements and promise a creative progression ahead of the album’s release in September.