Friday, August 11, 2017

Indie band The xx marks the spot (from their 2013 Manila show)


The xx marks the spot
In perhaps one of the English band’s best performances in their short career, their Manila gig is an arrow through the hearts and minds of all. The band included.
by rick olivares

July 30, 2013
If English band the xx expected a tepid crowd on hand for their furtive but cool and moody indie brand of electronica at the NBC Tent at Bonifacio Global City last Tuesday night, they were in for a surprise.

“We didn’t expect this… but we appreciate it,” uttered bassist Oliver Sim to a highly and wildly appreciative crowd that wasn’t a somnambulist’s dream. It was close to a karaoke nite of indie music goodness.

The same can be said when the xx’s self-titled debut album was released in 2009. No one saw that electronica’s answer to Everything But the Girl would release a sleeper of a hit that was filled with songs of intimacy, relationships, and sex laced with traces of Interpol, New Order, and the Cure. It was a charming and quirky masterpiece of minimalist music that made use of sound and silence. The album justly appeared on many best of lists and on soundtracks for HBO and the like.

And thus one of the biggest indie hits in recent years touched down in Manila. And long after the night was done, many will look back at it and say, “I was there”.

Taken By Cars and Up Dharma Down opened for the xx and they both had their moments as crowd favorites (although it seems that TBC ended their set prematurely after there was some commotion in the front of a stage from some drunk girl who passed out).

It took an hour before the xx took the stage and when they finally did, it wasn’t like the crowd released all their pent up emotions from the waiting – they were into the music and the tent erupted in rapture.

The xx opened their hour-long performance with haunting and pensive ‘Try’ from their second album, Coexist. The sparse instrumentation and vocal interchange has been the band’s signature but on this night, the NBC Tent crowd was treated to the intimacy between Sim and guitarist Romy Madley Croft despite both cutting vastly different figures on stage.

Sim is a presence with his piercing eyes and Gary Numan-esque New Romantic outfit. He wielded his Fender bass that at times was an instrument and on other occasions a dance partner.

Madley Croft offered smiles that betrayed a shyness. Still she managed to bare her appreciation between songs. No guitar hero poses. Just a girl and her Gibson Les Paul. But when she faced Sim at the center of the stage every now and then, there was symmetry between them no matter how disparate their stage personas.

While Sim sparingly chatted up the audience (he took more swigs at his beer bottles consuming about two to three during the performance), Madley Croft looked pleased that the audience knew and hung to every word, every lyric. Her smiles of appreciation were more than enough.

DJ and multi-instrumentalist Jamie Smith’s set in the back included turntables, steel drums, percussion, samplers, cymbals, and a computer. Smith without a doubt is the unsung genius of the band as unobtrusively laid down the beats and loops even as Madley Croft and Sim paused from playing their instruments to engage in their vocal interplay.

And it appeared that the xx have done nicely covering all the music between themselves since their acrimonious split with former guitarist Baria Qureshi the previous year.

They raced through 17 tracks from their two albums. The crowd responded to every song as they sang along to everything. Everything. The songs ‘Reunion’, ‘Sunset’, ‘Night Time’, ‘VCR’, and ‘Intro’ received the best receptions. As a fan myself, it was actually incredible to see this. It too brought a smile to my lips even if my body was aching from being unable to move even an inch as we were packed up in there like sardines.

The xx finished the first set with ‘Infinity’ (from their first album). The crowd knew they’d be back but they nevertheless made their intentions known by demanding for more. Plus, they knew what’s coming… ‘Intro’ that rousing instrumental that opened their debut album and has come to define this band as well with its staccato guitar and haunting lilting melody. And when Madley Croft’s guitar crisp plucking ushered in the instrumental, the jampacked NBC Tent swayed to the hypnotic beat as Sim’s bass and Smith’s percussion picked up the beat.

The English band closed out their show with ‘Angels’. The xx ended as they began, with a pensive song. When the song ended, the trio went to the front of the stage to wave the crowd goodbye. Sim’s broad smile bared the elation that he felt. Then they left. No words. Minimalist, right?

The xx conquered Manila with one of their most memorable performances of their career. But I am pretty sure that Manila conquered them as well.

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