sat 24/08/2019

The xx, Somerset House | reviews, news & interviews

The xx, Somerset House

The xx, Somerset House

XX-rated: gloom merchants fail to shine at Somerset House

Cheer up loves, it might never happenAliya Naumoff

I don't know exactly what they do in the music classes at Putney’s Elliott School, but it seems to do the trick. Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green went there 50 years ago and now, after admittedly a bit of a lull, the school is positively spitting stars out by the vanload. Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, attended, Hot Chip's members are Elliott alumni and The xx are the latest schoolkids on the block, with their self-titled 2009 debut album tipped to be a serious Mercury Prize contender.

Onstage last night, however, the Twilight-style black-garbed trio of vocalist/ bassist Oliver Sim, percussionist Jamie Smith and vocalist/ guitarist Romy Madley Croft revealed the band's limitations as well as their strengths as they studiously worked their way through most of their only long player. There is a fragile beauty to the songs when played at home, but in the flesh most of their material starts to sound a little bit, well, samey. At its best it is timeless minimalist pop, pared down to its bare bones, Chris Isaak meets Philip Glass, as on "Crystalised". But elsewhere there is too much of The Cure and New Order at their gothiest gloomiest. And the simplicity is not always sophisticated. "Heart Skipped a Beat", with its childlike hook, keeps threatening to turn into "Three Blind Mice".

It is never a good sign when one is making notes at a gig and one finds oneself writing, "Must call dentist tomorrow about daughter's teeth." Despite, or maybe because of, the glorious white-walled architectural setting of Somerset House, there were just too many distractions unless you really, as Howard Devoto said in a different context, wormed your way into the heart of the crowd. On the fringes there were those triple threats of the modern live concert, people taking photos of each other, people so excited by the gig they had to ignore it and text their friends to tell them how excited they were, and people nipping off to the bar. Though regarding the latter sin, in mitigation the bar was undeniably appealing, due to the venue organising a speedy and fair queuing system very similar to the one in my local post office. Not that they serve Carling on tap at my local post office.

The still relatively rare sight of a woman on lead guitar is more refreshing than any cold lager, but Madley Croft does little to add to the recorded versions of their songs. Sim is a lithe, lively bassist, bobbing and weaving around the stage as if ducking imaginary missiles, but his banter is largely limited to talking about the "funky house" before the band's positively glacial cover of R&B chanteuse Kyla's "Do You Mind". Only a few tracks really stood the test of live performance. "VCR" – a song title The Human League would surely use if they were starting out today – had a beefed up feel compared to the frankly plinky plonk version on their album and "Islands" retained its itchy, infectious vibe thanks to a nagging riff and Madley Croft’s whispered vocals cross-cutting with Sim’s drawl.

Frustratingly though, the threesome never quite built up more than a functional head of steam. At Glastonbury recently they were joined onstage by Florence Welch minus her Machine for a radical unpicking of "You’ve Got The Love". It would have been a wonderful way to finish with a flourish last night. Instead we got sparkly glitter shot out over the audience and a recorded version of "You’ve Got The Love" as everyone headed for the bus. If any Elliott School music teachers were present I hope they gave their ex-pupils good marks for effort but less plaudits for charisma.

Overleaf: watch The xx perform with Florence Welch

Comments

This is a really awful review, what does this review actually tell me!!?? I could imagine this reviewer missed the show and has had to write this piece knowing nothing about the concert but the set list. Really upset i missed this show i've heard it was incredible

Every comment welcome as long as it is well expressed and without abusive language so, Jo, I've removed your contribution to the debate. Ismene (administrator)

I was at this concert and it was undoubtably received incredibly well and rightfully so, it was spectacular. i thought it was unanimous, but clearly not!!?? were you really there? considering their age or not, this was a hugely triumphant show which any musician of any caliber should be proud of.

I think the commenters are maybe missing the point of the review which is that it is the writer's OPINION. Perhaps they might (ahem) prefer TheArtsDesk's previous report from a gig by The xx? http://www.theartsdesk.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=440:xx-w...

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters