Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.
The xx are finally back after a four year hiatus from touring, doubling down on the formula that earned them popular and critical acclaim. Fortunately for the dedicated fans at Merriweather Post Pavilion who braved a drastic temperature drop and an afternoon of rain (why does it rain every time I go to MPP?), the wait really was worth it. As if pre-ordained, the drizzle ceased and the clouds parted right as Romy, Oliver Sims, and Jamie xx took the stage. It was a crisp, condensed set that pulled mainly from their latest release, I See You, but featured plenty of callbacks to the songs that helped put the band on the map.
For a band whose aesthetic and sound oscillates between morose and euphoric, they have really tapped into a rich vein of emotions, expressed on stage by the shimmering, rippling set up of (literal) smoke and mirrors. Jamie xx’s primal drum beats underpinned proceedings, and even though he’s been the band’s breakout star over the last few years, it’s clear that Romy and Oliver’s minimalist, slicing guitar and bass riffs add a different, welcome dimension to their songs.
Their self-titled debut album, released in 2009, was a breath of fresh air that eventually turned stale due to its ubiquity – snippets of “Intro”, “VCR”, and “Basic Space” seemingly blared out of every single Urban Outfitters in the world, simultaneously, at any given time. It would be naive to pretend that the backlash didn’t contribute to the tepid response to Coexist, The xx’s sophomore effort. But by extension, most of us are far enough removed from their first record that listening to those songs is a welcome trip down memory lane. And Saturday night’s show was the perfect blend of the old and the new – splicing the effortless cool of their latest tracks between remixes of long-time favorites.
Opener Sampha played a short set with a full backing band, performing songs from his debut album Process. The soulful crooner is a Young Turks label-mate who has been getting plenty of recognition in his own right – selling out both U Street Music Hall and the 9:30 Club in the past twelve months – and though this was slightly diminished billing, his opening set alone would have been worth the price of admission. For Anglophile indie music fans, it was quite the duo of acts, and there was quite an early turnout for his performance.
All in all, it was a fantastic performance by a band that have figured out that if it isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it. The same on-stage chemistry and dynamics between the band exists – despite over a decade performing together and the trappings of fame – and we are all better off for it. We see you, and we like it.