Article by: Kelly Milionis, Senior Contributing Writer/Interviewer/Reviewer
Photos by: Brian Morgan
Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith aka Jamie xx, collectively known as "The xx", hit the mark Saturday night during a jam packed, standing room only, sold out show at Chicago's Congress Theatre. Still relatively a young band, The xx have garnered much critical acclaim and fan appeal since their arrival on the music scene as a quartet in London in 2008. Now a three-piece (with the departure of Baria Qureshi), The xx are at the forefront of a handful of innovative artists setting the standard for a new generation of music listeners. Pop, rock, indie, indie pop, indie rock, no matter the label or genre, The xx simply provide great music.
In the weeks leading up to The xx's performance, there was a palpable buzz around Chi-town; an ever-growing excitement along with a sense of enormous anticipation. Holding a ticket to the show meant you were thrust instantly into god-like status and deemed all-knowing amongst friends, co-workers or even fellow students. Upon entering the venue, those same feelings of excitement and anticipation were also met by a tense feeling of fans looking for a reason to scream and let loose. An impatient mass of concertgoers were crammed together on the main floor so there were no recognizable aisles and in the balcony, along the rear and sides, more eager fans were lined-up ten to fifteen deep; ready to let off some sort of pent up emotion. Then, the lights went down...
One collective breath was followed by an exhalation of a massive wave of screams and cheers sent towards Croft, Sim and Smith as they took to the stage; a most deafening roar of appreciation and acceptance. Having received the adulation and love from adoring fans Croft, Sim and Smith proceeded to give the gift of a sharp, crisp and nearly flawless performance.
Beginning with "Intro", then into "Angels", Croft's subtle, sensual, romantic vocal delivery was spot on, along with her unique plucking and picking abilities on guitar which are a large part of the trademark sound of The xx. Sim, on bass, and Smith, running drums and percussion from his MPC sampler, a unique 'drumless kit' set-up, were also stellar on their respective instruments. The xx presented material that was evenly distributed from their self-titled debut album "xx" and from their recent release "Coexist". Moving from song to song seemed effortless and provided an even flow to the evening's seventy-five minute set. Fans undoubtedly had fun while singing along loudly on "Angels", clapping and singing along on "Heart Skipped A Beat", singing along on "Fiction", and dancing and waving hands in unison to the beat on "Crystalised". And, fan participation continued throughout the set. "Islands" was arguably the most popular song of the night and was followed by the dropping of the stage backdrop to prominently display a large X at which time every cell phone went up to capture this moment leaving everyone hypnotized. The xx provided an encore featuring "Intro", "Tides" and "Starts".
The visual show was nothing short of amazing, featuring a video screen positioned behind The xx with very effective use of lighting enhancing the beat or continuing the mood of the song being performed. However, the lighting plot may have been well received in a festival setting where everyone was at eye level but complaints of not being able to see the show because of obnoxious, blinding to the point of shutting one's eyes, backlighting from the stage were heard vociferously from those fans trying to enjoy the overall experience from the balcony. On the main floor, quite the opposite view. Colleen Kelley, from Dayton, Ohio, watched the concert with her friends while standing in the front row, center stage on the main floor. She stated, "The xx were fantastic and the light show was fantastic! Best Light show ever"! John Rosario, also from Dayton, Ohio, emphatically added, "Pure Bliss"! and Alan McFarland, also from Ohio, was "speechless! The xx show was perfect"! With the exception of the blinding lights emanating from the stage focused literally on the balcony and an occasional irritating dose of feedback, it certainly was difficult to disagree with many in attendance that The xx hit the mark at Chicago's Congress Theatre.
Opening Acts: 2:54 and John Talabot