July 31, 2013
Kitec, Hong Kong
Reviewed by: Scott Murphy
Once or twice a decade, Hong Kong has an intense devotion to an unlikely Western group, seemingly out of nowhere. That UK act The xx, devoid of any noticeable hit (or even poppy) singles, could sell out a formidable cavern like KITEC in Kowloon Bay, is definitely a case in point.
And live, the Mercury Prize winning trio were just as mystifying, though undeniably mesmerizing. With a stage shrouded in darkness, save for some white spotlights and lasers that sent precise shards of light out into the audience, the group was also predictably clad in black. Guitarist Romy Madley-Croft and bassist Oliver Sim are the backbone of the group, but the mad professor-like movements of Jamie xx were a welcome distraction. Set on a level above the duo, he would play precise drum beats one moment, before scurrying to mix a sound collage or tinkle the ivories in a precise manner. It was most impressive.
During a set dominated by a virtual run through of the group’s only two albums, it was clear that the equally divided expat and local crowd responded to vastly different aspects of the group’s sound. In one area, squeals rang out over the New Order-styled mechanized synth drums on “Swept Away”. In another, Croft’s sparse guitar chiming invoked inexplicable rapturous screams.
The whispery male-female vocal interplay between Croft and Sim was slightly more powerful live. Croft’s feathery appeal for love during “Angels” had more of a reaching emotional quality than it did on the group’s second release Co-Exist. At another point, the male-female vocal dynamics on “Chained” had several females in the audience mouthing “we used to be closer than this” like a mantra, as if reminded of their own romantic shortcomings.
There was a minimum of stage patter. There was a whole lot of darkness. Somehow, the smell of dope wafted through the crowd, a reminder that people were lost in their own reverie. And perhaps that’s why The xx are the perfect group for a fast paced modern city. Amidst the perfectly executed, cold sound veneer, everyone attaches their own meaning to vague lyrics and distant vocal expressions, in a bid to find some kind of connection without getting too close…
All photos © Chris Lusher