The XX @ The Deaf Institute, Manchester, 04/10/2009
There are few times when a venue can have been so suited to the band playing in it. It is not just the style or size of the Deaf Institute which creates the atmosphere but the intimacy it provides. From the opening riff and languid, syncopated beat of 'Intro', the audience know that they are in the right place at the right time to see a band still full of nervous, raw energy. Just under three hundred people are packed into a small room, dark but stylishly set out with a gigantic disco ball to add a semi-self-conscious ironic chic, and barely a muscle is moved or a word spoken.
Sharing the vocals on most songs, the wounded voices of Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim take us through haunting reminiscences of break-ups, sexual encounters and heartache. Second single 'Crystalised' (18 August) is somewhere close to a perfect pop song were it not so utterly different, the interplay between Sim and Croft working over a tense, weaving guitar line turning into a dancing, almost resilient solo as the drumbeat comes in from Jamie Smith. Describing a band as 'tight' has always seemed vague to me but it is clearly how The xx should be described; performance effortless, each track coming from within each member simultaneously. 'Islands' deals with the pressure of over-committing in a relationship and the possible negative side effects, Sim's voice growing from the depths like the devil on innocent Croft's shoulder.
The silence of the audience is striking, Sim commenting at one point that he can hear how much change people are getting at the bar. It's not for lack of reaction, the rampant cheering after each song is enough to disprove that; it's sheer awe. Smith's fantastic sense of rhythm and ability to play with each beat is enough to get some cautiously dancing, almost embarrassed but unable to stop from moving, and there are plenty mouthing each lyric back to the band, but this is their time to be appreciated and no-one wants to spoil that.
'Night Time' is a beautiful perspective on finding it hard to articulate love and is almost typical of the album, vocals and lyrics providing a complex emotional basis which builds and is taken by Smith to express through a synthesised drum kit what clearly can't be expressed in words. Stunned but appreciative, the audience applauds.