Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The xx at the House of Blues San Diego


Coachella seemed liked a haze running around from stage to stage in order to capture as many bands as possible. One of the few sets that I vividly remember not wanting to leave was during The xx. Initially, their debut album didn't click with me right away but somehow their icy, cool tunes gained a sheen of repeat listening warmth.


A large white scrim hung in front of the stage positioned as the target for Phantogram's array of visuals that blended well with their arresting electronica laced dream pop. Supporting their latest release on Barsuk records Eyelid Movies, Phantogram conjured various twinkling synthesizers, pulsating synthesizer bass lines and textured guitars to hypnotize the audience.

The mix for Phantogram was criminally low as chatty patrons in the back of the bar were overpowering the band on stage. "Mouthful of Diamonds" was not nearly as propulsive as it should have been due to the lack of volume. Some fans in the front were yelling in between songs to tell the band to turn it up. Unfazed by the sound problems, Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter still managed to pull off a solid set.

Another visual aspect of their show that should be noted was their intermittent use of strobe lights during the noisy parts of their set that blitzed your sensorium. Despite the sound problems, Phantogram is on my list of bands to check out when they come back around the area.

The xx

Icy. Calculated. Cool. These are just some adjectives that raced across my mind while watching The xx. Ever since I started photographing concerts, paying attention to lighting is a vital component to capturing the right moment. The lighting director for The xx deserves an award for their outstanding use of lighs in a concert setting.

A large white scrim flashed the shadows of Romy Croft and Oliver Sim while they initiated the tension mounting "Intro". When the scrim dropped, the band immediately started into "Crystalised". The lighting director methodically alternated the spotlight between Croft and Sim when they were trading vocals. Visually, it made the members pop out of thin air and vaporize instantly after singing their respective part.

Knowing the songs was key for the first three songs as I quickly aimed my camera back and forth. The sparseness of "Islands" was impressive with Sim adding some extra kick on his sliding bass notes. Croft deftly handed the ringing guitar notes of "Heart Skipped A Beat" while Jamie Smith pounded away at his electronic drum pad.

Things became moody with the calm quietness of "Shelter" as the tension building guitars would ignite momentarily before quickly folding back into a wash of reverb. The lack of drums throughout the track pulls in the listener and adds a shade of contrast to the bleakness of the song.

Twinkling keyboards of "VCR" elicited cheers from the crowd as many started to sing along. The xx would sequentially tackle "Basic Space", "Infinity" and "Night Time" to close their main set. The background of the stage changed to numerous illuminated "Stars" for another visual ace serving as the perfect encore.

The fire alarms that went off before The xx played should have sounded at the ending of their set. It was that good. The xx will be back on 9/22 at the Hollywood Palladium.

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