Review: The xx at O2 Academy, Brixton

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Newly into their third album cycle, The xx’s eventual return to London could never get away with being as simple as an arena show or two. To this day, their sound is one of angst and uncertain intimacy, and a little residency in the venue where all three members first experienced live music seemed only fitting. In hindsight, that the post-I See You run would sell out Brixton’s O2 Academy seven times is remarkable, considering the nerves so apparent on the garage-recorded debut xx that they’re barely audible at times.

Yet, the trio’s remarkable development in assurance and ambition is evident: Night + Day, announced initially as three consecutive nights before expanding rapidly on the first pre-sale day, isn’t just seven gigs in eight days, with the band’s cross motif etched into every available panel between the Victoria Line’s platforms and the venue’s stage. Escalator adverts detailed the afterparties; free magazines at the door documented film screenings and community outreach endeavours. Each show carried a bespoke support pairing, with spellbinding acts in their own right (Sampha, Francis And The Lights, Robyn, etc.) gracefully borrowing the stage after assorted warm-up mixes from esteemed selectors (Floating Points, Joy Orbison, six hours of Jamie xx and friends). Such was the extent of their squatting, the band even had two explicitly-labelled WiFi networks around the venue floor, including one simply for the lighting.

On a minimal stage – because this is the same band that delivered ‘Intro’ after all – the softly-spoken front pairing of Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft stood, stared, and swayed peculiarly in an enclosure of eight revolving stage-high revolving panels, mirrored on each face to propel light around the room. One further, situated ambiguously above, tilted to show off the habitat of production maestro Jamie Smith as the set opened up to ‘Loud Places’ after a ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’-infused ‘Fiction’ elicited a thrilling, excitable finale to the main portion of the set. Only in such a week-long celebration could they get away such extravagances, and clearly exhibiting Smith’s workhorse-like performance tendencies illustrates just how his solo sojourn – the Mercury-nominated In Colour – has shaped the band’s recent sonic evolutions.

Otherwise, it can be all too easy to just focus on the brilliance of Sim and Madley-Croft’s precise vocals, endearing interludes, certain telepathic awareness, and awkward swaying. Throughout, if a song or even a verse fell more significantly to one, the other would step back and really allow the attention to be on them. In particular, a tender hug after Madley-Croft’s heartwrenching solo ‘Performance’ was enough to draw tears before the stunning openings of ‘VCR’ and ‘Angels’ could even make themselves known. Out of ‘On Hold,’ their comeback single and a clear highlight (alongside ‘Dangerous’) from the new record both on tape and stage, the ominous instrumental ‘Intro’ came as a breathtaking penultimate encore moment, because nothing is more xx-like than an introduction to end. (The two even swapped sides!)

Throughout Night + Day, The xx’s mission – comfortably achieved – is to shatter hearts into millions of pieces by way of blaring horns, pulsating basslines, and an ethereal vocal coating that feels somehow more nuanced than their low-key recordings ever could. To join the three childhood friends who, after three powerful albums, returned home to an adoring city was a truly unforgettable experience.

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Second year PAIR student and live editor. Fan of cats, tea lover, can be found rambling about politics and cats at @_Carly_May on Twitter.

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Records Editor, Head of Music at Surge Radio, and Web Science student who should probably dedicate more time to keeping his Spotify playlists under control.

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