The xx is all grown

Oliver Sim, Romy Madley-Croft and Jamie Smith im­press and show con­fi­dence; as­cen­dant lo­cal band Warpaint opens.

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - Mar­garet Wap­pler

In the mid­dle of their set Wed­nes­day night at the Hollywood Pal­la­dium, the xx an­nounced that this was the first tour it’s been on where all mem­bers could legally drink. “Cheers,” singer-bassist Oliver Sim in­toned, be­fore tak­ing a bird-like sip.

It was a suc­cinct re­minder that Londoners Sim, singer-gui­tarist Romy MadleyCroft and pro­gram­mer Jamie Smith have put scant years be­tween dream­ing in their bed­rooms — one imag­ines a col­lec­tive cham­ber cov­ered in vin­tage Depeche Mode posters — and win­ning pres­ti­gious Bri­tish award the Mer­cury Prize for their im­pec­ca­ble self-ti­tled 2009 de­but al­bum of min­i­mal­ist synth-pop.

The show, opened by Warpaint, lo­cal ris­ing stars whose Rough Trade de­but will be re­leased in Oc­to­ber, also func­tioned as a suc­cinct re­minder of the raw po­tency of teenage dreams, end­less fod­der for bleed­ing hearts bent over their Ca­siotones. There is long­ing for sex, money and power, but when the xx closes its eyes, it sees in­ti­macy.

Clad in all black, MadleyCroft stood out front on the stage, sur­rounded only by a few smoke-filled cones of light, sing­ing the first few lines of “Shel­ter,” a song about find­ing close­ness and the in­se­cu­rity that comes when it’s all too eas­ily threat­ened. There was lit­tle more than a few scratches at the bass and gui­tar to pad Madley-Croft’s con­ver­sa­tional vo­cals. Her voice is one of the band’s best as­sets — vel­vety but still mod­est, a pre­ci­sion in­stru­ment per­fect for de­liv­er­ing pil­low talk for goths.

The crowd was ador­ing, hold­ing up glow­ing We­b­con­nected gadgets as if the band were per­form­ing to avatars first, bod­ies sec­ond. It’s a fit­ting ges­ture for a gen­er­a­tion that of­ten hears mu­sic first through their Macs.

As tech­no­log­i­cally suave as the xx is — and Smith works won­ders with on-the-spot beats — its mu­sic is still about the elec­tric­ity of the first touch and the fright that comes after­ward. The xx is slowly but steadily scal­ing its own wuther­ing heights of cold eu­pho­ria. The group’s grow­ing con­fi­dence is in­tox­i­cat­ing to watch, mainly for the po­ten­tial it still holds.

For the en­core, in a frenzy of strobe lights, Sim beat on a cym­bal, a rare moment of un­leashed fer­vor. It raises the ques­tion: What could the xx be­come with live drums? Maybe that will be in the mix when the trio re­turns; it also an­nounced this will be its last U.S. tour for some time.

Drums made a big dif­fer­ence for opener Warpaint, whose live show has im­proved greatly from its days of play­ing with chins shyly tucked in at venues around town. The group has al­ways had a kind of charisma, but it felt like a se­cret it didn’t want to get out.

At the Pal­la­dium, the fairly re­cent ad­di­tion of drum­mer Stella Moz­gawa freed up gui­tarist-vo­cal­ist duo Emily Kokal and Theresa Way­man to rely less on vo­cal in­ter­play — not that it’s gone by any mea­sure — and more on their stage pres­ence and in­stru­men­ta­tion. In­stead, Moz­gawa’s re­source­ful drum­ming, a pow­er­ful cord braid­ing to­gether the no­madic struc­ture of the songs, sup­ports the vo­cals. Bassist Jenny Lee Lind­berg has more of a rhyth­mic part­ner to in­ter­act with, and her bass lines have be­come all the richer for it.

With shiv­er­ing cym­bals and darkly ring­ing gui­tars, “Un­der­tow,” from the up­com­ing al­bum, “The Fool,” was a show high­light. For Warpaint, the song is the wan­der; they’re not afraid to dig down into the un­known depths. For the lis­tener, it can be thrilling: It isn’t im­por­tant for Warpaint to name the pri­vate land­scape they’re de­scrib­ing, only that we de­sire to be there. mar­garet.wap­pler@latimes.com

Robert Gauthier

MA­TURED: Mer­cury Prize-win­ning Bri­tish band the xx, in­clud­ing Romy Madley-Croft, left, and Oliver Sim, cel­e­brates its first tour with all three mem­bers over 21 at the Hollywood Pal­la­dium on Wed­nes­day.

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