Concert Review: The xx @ O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, England (plus full setlist)

Monday night was the first day the sun hasn’t shone brightly in London in over a week. Fittingly, the darkness coincided with the UK release date of The xx’s excellent sophomore album, Coexist, and the band’s album release gig in London. In a surprise to no fans of the band, The xx – Romy Madley-Croft, Oliver Sim, and Jamie Smith – were dressed in all black to mark the occasion.

With near-universal acclaim for their first album and now also for their second album, anticipation for the gig was running high. So how did the low-key, shy London trio do on this landmark occasion? Spoiler alert: very, very good.

First up was another London band, 2:54. They noted that they were happy to be opening for The xx on the day they released Coexist to the world, clearly recognizing that it was a pretty big deal. The 4 piece, consisting of sisters Colette and Hannah Thurlow, as well as Alex Robins and Joel Porter, faced the usual problems an opening band faces – people just aren’t there to see you. Despite a few solid songs (like You’re Early, Creeping, and Sugar), the crowd wasn’t overly receptive. The volume was a bit too quiet, especially for the vocals, and inhibited a lots of conversations in the crowd.

The band did play Sugar, You’re Early, and Creeping in a short, 30 minute six song set. The vocals were a bit muffled at times, but the band have some good tunes, and are worth a listen.

The xx came on the stage around 9:10, behind a giant white curtain, which was being used to showcase projected images. Around the second verse of opener Angels, the curtain fell, revealing Romy, Oliver, and Jamie to the crowd. Jamie was using soft sticks on the drums to pound out the beats on the opening track from Coexist.

Up next was Heart Skipped a Beat, which featured a pulsating drum part. Oliver was alternating between looking into crowd and dipping down and swaying his body to play his bass. The end of the song differed from the studio version slightly, with an almost cartoonish, kiddy beat, like a jack in the box, being played.

The stage was dark for the third song, Chained. There was no back drop or video screens for the band; just lights shining out into the crowd from the back. The live version, like many songs during their set, was more upbeat. Chained was almost a different song due to the change of tempo, and it made a good song great.

At the end of the song, Romy noted that Monday was a big day, “not only did the album come out but it’s good to be back home. Thank you for bringing us here.” If only I actually had that power.

The xx @ Shepherd's Bush Arena

“I wonder if they can see us if we wear all black?”

Fiction followed the short speech, and continued the body language of Romy looking down, and Oliver often staring at and into the crowd.

Romy and Oli migrated towards the centre of the stage during parts of Crystalised, and began facing each other when playing. This version was a little slower than normal. Their intertwined vocals were bang on, and pitch perfect, despite often being at opposite ends of the stage, and not looking at one another for timing cues.

Shiny, silvery confetti fell from the ceiling during Fantasy, as the band came out of their shells a little, and begin grooving around the stage to the beat.

The xx ran through the middle section of Coexist in a jumbled order, starting with Missing, then moving to Reunion, and Sunset. Reunion featured Jamie xx played a steel pan drum, and providing a thumping beat. The song was a full on rock track, with Jamie providing some great beats, and Romi and Oli nodding and moving around the stage.

The xx @ Shepherd's Bush Arena

I was on the Oliver side of the stage. Sorry, Romy!

Jamie continued to showcase his skills, which really came to the forefront in the next 3 songs. You can tell he is a DJ, as his dance beats got the crowd moving for Night Time. This led to Swept Away, with the somewhat un-xx-like heavy beats continuing. The high BPM continued through Shelter, which is not an upbeat song normally. It was radically different to say the least, and finally calmed down to normal by the 2nd chorus. It was an invigorating change for the live setting, and the crowd loved it.

After the DJ-like series of songs, the first actual break and crowd engagement for the band followed. The crowd gave a rapturous applause for the set to date. Oliver noted that “nothing is more scary than being on stage and making eye contact with your grandma.” I’m pretty sure being on the stage would be nerve racking enough for me.

3 songs from debut album, XX, closed out the regular set, all of which prompted singalongs from the crowd – the first audible ones of the night. First up was VCR, then Islands, and Infinity. Infinity benefited from a huge cymbal crash sound and drum kick provided by Jamie. As the song drew to a close, the backdrop raised, to show off a massive, thick X.

The encore kicked off with the excellent Intro, which seemed a bit subdued. The giant X in the backdrop began to display a swirl of colours, which begs the question – why wait 16 songs to showcase a cool looking stage piece for only 3 songs?

Up next was Tides. Afterwards, the band thanked everyone for being in the crowd, noting that they “thought our music would never leave London and now it’s all over the world.”

The final song of the night was the closer of the first album, Stars. The ending of the song was slowed down, with Jamie breaking the silent pauses with unexpecting, pounding parts. The end of the song drew a clap along from the crowd. The band exited the stage after as a group after 1 hour and 15 minutes of playing.

The band often thrives on their minimalist and sparse sounds, which are showcased on their two albums. However, in the live setting tonight (and not the previous two times I’ve seen them), the songs were much more upbeat, and almost club-like at times, thanks to Jamie xx working his magic. It would be nice to see this progression happen on their third studio album. In Reunion, Romy asks “did I see you see me in a new light?” After tonight, the answer is a resounding yes.

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PHM Rating for 2:54: 7.0 out of 10

PHM Rating for The xx: 9.5 out of 10
Setlist for The xx @ O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, England – Monday, September 10, 2012

Heart Skipped a Beat
Night Time
Swept Away



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