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The xx Proved Why They're a Summer Festival Staple

The lighting design made photography tricky. More than once, grumbles emanated from frustrated iPhone users who were finding it difficult to capture an image worthy of Instagram and Facebook.
The lighting design made photography tricky. More than once, grumbles emanated from frustrated iPhone users who were finding it difficult to capture an image worthy of Instagram and Facebook.
Jeff Strowe

the xx
South Side Ballroom, Dallas
Monday, May 8, 2017

Fans of the xx, an indie pop band hailing from London, are an exuberant bunch. The xx's blend of icy minimalism and arena rock brought out millenials and more seasoned concertgoers during an 80-minute set Monday night at South Side Ballroom.

Aaron and Michelle, married 40-somethings who'd bought the tickets to celebrate their anniversary, were contemplating contemplated purchasing a $60 hoodie from the merchandise booth before the show started. “It’s our first time seeing the band, so I think I might be a little over-the-top with the cheers,” Michelle said. "I’ve got to be at work tomorrow and I’m sure my voice will be a bit ragged."

Her exuberance was matched by the thousands of fans in attendance for the sold-out show. As soon as the stage lights dimmed, deafening roars filled the room. A sea of raised fists, adoring faces, and cell phones is a common sight for the xx, currently on an ambitious worldwide tour, but they seemed alarmed by it anyway.

The band’s three members — bassist Oliver Sim, guitarist Romy Madley Croft and multi-instrumentalist Jamie xx — paused to take in the scene before launching into the opening notes of "Say Something Loving."

While attendees sported outrageous outfits perfect for Coachella, the band kept it simple with monochromatic ensembles. The stage shimmered thanks to rectangular prisms, flashing strobe lights and curtains that swept back and forth eerily.

During “Loud Spaces,” a magnetic rainbow of green, pink and purple enveloped the band and much of the audience, creating an aura of warmth and harmony. At other points during the set, the lights dimmed, leaving only single, utilitarian spotlights on Croft and Sim as they performed solos on contemplative tracks such as “Performance” and “Sunset."

Musically, the xx straddled the line between bombastic anthems and intimate bedroom indie rock. Though this duality is a big reason they're popular, it’s even more pronounced in a live setting.

Jamie xx’s independent success as a DJ and producer earns him the most freedom to experiment. Monday, he served as the de facto band leader. From high above his perch on the stage risers, he flipped knobs, scratched out beats and bobbed his head with enthusiasm.

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Croft and Sim, on the other hand, had a tendency to bring down the energy Jamie xx had built up. Too often, a song that called for an extended jam or groovy outro was simply ground to a swift and final halt. However, their harmonies were locked in beautifully and the guitar and bass lines were neatly in sync.

Monday night it was clear why the xx have become this summer’s go-to festival act. Their kaleidoscopic music lends itself to dazzling stage design that translates well in open fields. And their sound setup was strong enough to reach all the way to the back of the crowd, while their minimalist sound and shy presentation gave concertgoers up front the sense they were attending a much more intimate show.

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