|The XX (Alexandra Waespi/Handout)
TORONTO - All eyes may be on the Olympics in London but at the Phoenix on Saturday night, one of that city’s finest musical exports - minimalist electro-pop trio The XX - were the focus of attention.
That is, when you could actually see them.
The smoke started billowing onto the stage and filing up the sold-out venue even before singer-guitarist Romy Madley Croft, singer-bassist Oliver Sim and multi-instrumentalist Jamie Smith (playing drums, synths, piano, etc.) began their short but oh so sweet sounding 70-minute set.
It was a show big on atmosphere: plenty of strobe, back and multi-coloured lighting but little in the way of movement or banter from the three musicians.
“This is our first show in Canada in about two years,” said Sim, in a rare moment of interaction with the crowd.
By the time The XX opened with the new song, Angels, from their highly anticipated forthcoming sophomore album, Coexist, due Sept. 11, you could only see Croft and Sim, and basically just in silhouette.
Smith, a DJ, producer and mixer to such fellow British stars as Adele, Florence and the Machine, Radiohead and Toronto rapper Drake, eventually became visible and provided the much needed boost for The XX’s live show.
He was the band’s heartbeat, if you will.
Croft and Sim possess two of the softest and sexiest voices - both apart and together and write deeply romantic, moody songs. But they are hardly huge stage presences, preferring instead to remain in the dark (literally) and let their music - driven largely by Croft’s ghostly guitar and Sim’s thudding bass - do the talking.
Thankfully, Smith’s big beats kicked the proceedings up a notch, particularly during older songs like Infinity - which slowly built to an exciting climax and was maybe the best song of the night - and striking new songs like Reunion with him on steel drums.
Meanwhile, for Islands, Crystalised and Basic Space - all from The XX’s much ballyhooed 2009 self-titled debut and Mercury Prize winner in England - the crowd heartily sang and clapped along, adding to the dynamics.
Also good were the older songs Shelter, VCR, Night Time, and the instrumental and crowd favourite, Intro, which began the encore.
The XX are expected to return to a larger venue in Toronto in the fall after Coexist is released and they’ve already announced shows in Vancouver and Quebec City in early to late October.
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