Tell people you’re going to an xx concert and witness the kind of response you get. The reactions range from eye rolls to a brand of intense, overwhelming lethargy, wherein it appears that your conversation partner could drop dead at any moment. Such is the reputation the London trio carved out for themselves over their first two albums. There might be a smattering who would enthuse at the prospect of an xx show, but they would typically fall into one of two camps: immediate post-breakup sad cases and emotional stoners looking for optimum baked conditions. Given this awareness, I think I bought tickets for the group’s show last week as part of a hangover of my affection for Jamie xx’s ‘In Colour’, an album as much a part of the fabric of my life over the last couple of years as any. But as the day approached, that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach took hold; I was going to watch a boring show.
Something happened to The xx between their sophomore effort, ‘Coexist‘ (ostensibly a second volume of their debut) and their third album, this year’s ‘I See You’. Perhaps the best expression of this change was in my initial opinion of ‘I See You’. I really didn’t like it. Singles aside (‘Say Something Loving‘ is a masterpiece of Alessi Brothers-sampling, rollicking beseechment), I expected that when putting on this album, I could turn the lights down, crack out a good book and just ease into the night. The xx were my go-to, my mainstay chill act. Now, here they were vogueing it up, making music that didn’t simply involve low-key drums, muted guitars and muffled lyrics. I decided to put the new incarnation out of my mind and so approached the show, at a repurposed tennis court in Queens, anticipating being lulled into a state of satisfied bliss.
How wrong I was. Not only is ‘I See You’ a masterpiece of personal growth for Romy, Oliver and Jamie, but played live, it invigorates what you might reasonably think would be a meh show, and elevates it to a show that I felt moved to tell friends about. If The xx started as a bunch of shy kids, musically untrained but talented as songwriters, they have now become comfortable in their musicality and confident in experimenting with their sound, even if a touch of that painful shyness remains. ‘Dangerous’ doesn’t allow for any reservation, with blaring horns and a bass line for the ages propelling it, and given expression in the flesh, with an inexplicable tension bubbling between Romy and Oliver, it pops with words we don’t associate with the trio: boldness, aggression, energy. It’s in that central refrain that the band’s contemporary abandon, that imbues their live show with so much excitement, is laid bare: ‘You are dangerous but I don’t care.’
The xx – Dangerous