Back in 2012, referring to the band he started with childhood friends Romy Madley Croft and Jamie Smith, bassist Oliver Sims told Spin that the trio are still “learning how to share the xx with people who aren’t in the xx.” After two years of booking festivals and small arenas, the their current run of shows at the Upper East Side’s Park Avenue Armory might be the next step in this process of mutual discovery.
Essentially, it worked like this: The crowd was assembled into a waiting room off to the side then led into building drill hall where the band was waiting in a small performance space surrounded by sheets that would receive projections on all four sides. The band opened with Coexist lead single “Angels,” played for 50 minutes and at the some point therein the sheets dropped, the small initial space becoming to a cavernous closing one. Despite the venue’s enormous size, each of the 25 performances is limited to 40 people, and despite the band’s remarkable popularity and general aversion to being watched, those 40 people end up completely surrounding them, standing so close that Smith is able to play a steel drum like he’s painting with watercolors and the sound of Croft’s guitar pick hitting the strings was audible even before being amplified by the surrounding speakers.
Just as it’s no great insight that the xx’s meticulous stereo arrangements would lend themselves to such a venue – they themselves named one of their best songs “Basic Space,” after all – one doesn’t have to make it through the waiting list to figure out that these shows are an attempt to wring some dramatic energy from a few well timed contrasts. Surprisingly, for instance, no one could or wanted to dance, but the clarity and volume of the soundsystem helped to draw out the dance music that lies within their songs. And similarly, whatever the band’s intentions, the most striking thing about coming so near to the music was how removed from it you remained. As it turns out, it’s sometimes easier to get lost in a song when you’re lost in the crowd as well, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time.
Of course, one can only get lost in that crowd if they can make it past the bouncer, and before the conceptual stuff, Performance Four (Performance One was exclusively for Burberry executives) was burdened by how easily “exclusive event for the fans” slips into “exclusive event for people who tend to find themselves at exclusive events.” This may change as the show continues, but until then, most of the band’s fans can’t even come close enough to feel the distance.