The Great ‘XX’pectations

4 stars

When the song “Islands” by the xx appeared on one of my Pandora Radio stations a couple years ago, I could not have imagined how in love I would be with the London-based indie pop band two years later.

After two weeks of midterm assignments and a day of Friday classes, a close friend and I drove down to the Paradise Theater in the Bronx. A life goal was completed on Oct. 26: we saw the xx live for the first time.

When we arrived at the theater, the line was moderately short, so we explored the area. After eating fast food and cotton candy, restroom-hunting and being approached by several ticket scalpers, we made it into Paradise Theater.

Brooklyn-based band Chairlift, well-known for its song “Bruises,” opened up for the xx.  After the opening act, a white curtain fell and concealed the stage. The theater’s blue lights dimmed and the music began.

Playing from behind the white curtain, the xx started with “Angels,” the first song off of their sophomore album, Coexist. Midway through the song, the white curtain dropped as producer Jamie Smith’s heavy beats filled the theater.

True to their solemn, black-wearing, mysterious figures, guitarist Romy Madley Croft and bassist Oliver Sim sang and inhabited their separate sides of the stage, joining together for their call-and-answer lyrics. Croft’s signature melodic guitar riffs resonated throughout the theater, matching Sim’s minimal bassline while Smith produced the tracks live behind them.

The trio played “Crystalised,” “Reunion” and “VCR,” among other crowd favorites, alternately playing songs from their  self-titled debut, xx, and Coexist. I have encountered bands whose wonderful sound booth audio-recorded songs do not meet my great expectations when I see them live, but the xx exceeded any I had. I couldn’t contain my screams of joy when the progression of songs transitioned the way I always felt they would.

The impressive Greco-Roman styled theater held more than 3,000 audience members with two tiers above the main level and an open standing area. The atmospheric theater was made to make audience members feel as though they’re outside. With the intense smoke machines and beaming strobe lights, I felt like I was floating above an ocean of clouds. At times, only Smith could be seen above the smoke while Croft and Sim appeared to dance, playing their instruments under the blanket of smoke.

“Infinity,” a five-minute song off of xx, extended longer than I expected — when Sim continued singing “give it up” and Croft continued replying “can’t give it up,” I would not have guessed a huge three-dimensional ‘X’ would slowly descend from the stage ceiling behind the band. Maybe the band’s collective crescendo should have given it away, but the crowd roared as Croft and Sim sang and the ‘X’ filled with smoke and changed colors.

The band wasn’t able to walk off stage before the crowd demanded an encore. They played “Intro,” “Tides” and  “Stars.” I couldn’t make out their departing message, partially due to the excitement of the crowd and the band members’ whispery voices, but I couldn’t believe it was over.

The xx perfectly blends echoey guitar lines, steel drums, singing that’s as faint as whispers and lyrics about love while managing to be pop. How? I don’t know, but this concert was, by far, the best show I have ever been to. If you are searching for music to either lay your head and fall asleep or mindlessly dance to, the xx offers the best of both worlds.