Over The Weekend: The xx, Warpaint and Zola Jesus at the Granada Theater

The xx, Warpaint, Zola Jesus
Granada Theater
October 8, 2010

Better than: the build-up to the lightning-hot London trio's show.

The xx

The xx making their Dallas debut came with much anticipation: After being sold-out since late summer, the attitude at the Granada Friday night was electric, with swooning the xx followers whipping the place into a frenzy.

And despite never having been here, curious fans who follow their media coverage or those who made the jaunt this spring to catch them at SXSW will know that the airy nature of their music has the potential to come off a bit dull in the live setting.

But Friday night was defiantly not a repeat of the timid stage presence they have sometimes been dogged by.

The fresh-faced trio (the band's members recently eclipsed the age of 21) has turned the last two years of almost non-stop touring around the world into an opportunity to learn and grow--an xx performance now shows the confidence of polish.

And despite their appearance on the Saturday bill at this year's Austin City Limits fest, the Friday show was a different thing altogether--it was clear that the xx were treating the Granada show like it was their last gig, being the final date of their tour with Warpaint and Zola Jesus. All three members played this last performance with a kind of grit that signified their importance to close this tour on a high note.

The xx were here to impress.

To prime the audience, Zola Jesus slowly brought the crowd to life, beginning the set obscured by black fabric. She eventually took on the persona of a caged lion, pacing the stage and exploding into a shock of flailing blond hair as she undulated her body like a whip.

The L.A.-based quartet in Warpaint also held a fantastically captive audience, drawn in by the sweet intoxication of the three female vocalists and muscled along by the powerful punctuation provided by their exceptional drummer Stella Mozgawa. The band's hit "Undertow" drew raucous approval from the crowd whose anticipation was spilling over as the xx took the stage to launch into a stirring rendtion of "Intro."

There's not much to the production--the xx has one guitar, one bass guitar, and a drum machine/keyboard setup and keep their compositions about as spare as they can get. But as each element is given white space to expand into, it becomes huge and beautiful. Romy Madley Croft's clear and moody guitar and sensuous vocals provide enough emotion to warrant her mostly stoic stage persona, standing still with face held high. Oliver Sim's performance saw him quite a bit more at ease at the end of this tour, all rubbery and angular in his movement and vocally a perfect foil to Croft's chilling lyrics. And Jamie Smith, deftly operating the drum machine and providing the sonic bed of wobbling bass that created the best environment for the delicate sexiness of the back and forth of Sim and Croft.

Croft's only glimmer of real emotion came near the end of the set during "Islands." After a set that was buoyed by a throaty and light-headed audience who were more than happy to provide sing-alongs and dancing (yes, the xx had the Granada dancing), Croft took a step back from the mic and let the crowd take over: "... I am yours now."

A faint glimmer of enjoyment almost cracked her face just before she launched into her verse to raucous fanfare.

During their last song, "Infinity," Sim took to his wildest behavior of the evening, fully attacking a lone cymbal stage center along with members of Warpaint and Zola Jesus. The closing was anything but what would be expected from the normally sedate xx, this was fireworks at the end of a party.

After no more than 90 seconds away from the stage, the xx came back to encore with "Stars," proudly capping one of the most hectic two years of touring imaginable for a group of artists straddling their teens and twenties. Having polished their live act considerably in that time, they have more than earned a break from the work. And this gives us a chance to miss them, knowing that their next performance will most likely be something to remember.

Critics' Notebook
Personal Bias:
Being a huge fan of this band, I had a pretty good idea what to expect, evn if this was my first time seeing them live. Still, I was blown away. The xx really know how to command a room.

Random Note: Apparently this show was too good to be true for a lot of people. Overheard were many exclamations of "Oh my God," screams that could have been mistaken for those heard at The Beatles' Shea Stadium show in '65. One person proclaimed to nobody in particular, "Yeah, they're that fucking good."

By the Way: Warpaint really did put on a fantastic show, and I was thoroughly impressed by their drummer. Count this as a recommendation to check them next time you have a chance.

Set List:
1) Intro
2) Crystalised
3) Heart Skipped A Beat
4) Basic Space
5) Fantasy
6) Shelter
7) Show Me Love (Robin S cover)
8) Teardrops (Womack & Womack cover)
9) VCR
10) Islands
11) Night Time
12) Infinity
13) Stars

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