Music Notes: The xx

by Columnist

British rock trio The xx sold out the 9:30 Club and delivered a glamorous show of special effects, but where was the new material?
By Megan Buerger

The xx dazzled onstage at 9:30 Club.

The xx dazzled onstage at 9:30 Club.

Ever experienced the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, with a band? As a quick refresher, Baader-Meinhof occurs when a person has attained a piece of information, like learning a new word, and then encounters it repeatedly shortly thereafter. For me, autumn has been the season of The xx.

Though the band has been around for a while (they formed in 2005) they seem to be particularly omnipresent lately: at brunch in Georgetown, during a film at E Street Cinema, even in the Starbucks where I get my afternoon latte. Ears fully perked, I soon realized it might not be all coincidence. The band can be heard in the background of AT&T commercials, Law & Order, Hung, Grey’s Anatomy and even Gossip Girl. The xx are everywhere.

Somehow, they seem to work at a slow enough pace to hold off the impending backlash. The London threesome – composed of female vocalist and guitar player Romy Madley-Croft, bassist and vocalist Oliver Sim, and Jamie Smith on programming and percussion – has managed to widely distribute their sound without becoming members of the dreaded “mainstream.” Yet.

There’s a few other factors contributing to the band’s steady success: Pitchfork didn’t hate them, Rolling Stone loved them – placing them in their top 10 “best of the year” category in 2009 – and so did the judges on the panel of this year’s Barclaycard Mercury Prize, which the band was awarded last month.

Tuesday night’s performance at the 9:30 Club saw the typical trappings of an xx concert, including heavy smoke and a romantic light show, appropriate for the crowd of mostly couples. Adding to show’s element of fantasy was Sim, who’s dramatic swaying was akin to that of a Guitar Hero character. He paused to talk to the audience only once.

“Everytime I’m in D.C.,” he said, “I…go to Ben’s Chili Bowl.” The crowd, unsurprised by the standard out-of-towner plug, gave him a polite laugh. Some fans were perhaps disappointed; the last time The xx played in the District was a set of two sold-out shows in March at a synagogue on 6th and I, and Sim’s one remark was about his Ben’s Chili Bowl meal earlier that day.

Tuesday night’s show included two soft-spoken covers, Womack & Womack’s “Teardrops” and Robin S’ “Show Me Love.”

One can’t help but wonder what is next for a group who’s demand seems to be outrunning its ability to supply new material. Will they return next spring with the same twelve songs and a quip about Ben’s Chili Bowl? A winter in the studio might do them some good.

Until then, The xx will likely compensate for their lack of sonic diversity – or lack of songs – with lighted visuals. The audience ate it up, a sea of shimmering smartphones all tweeting to their neighbors and swaying away. This will do, for now.

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