Show Review: Hot Chip with The xx at The Fox Oakland, 4/16/2010

by Jonathan Pirro on April 17, 2010

Hot Chip and their sonic jungle

Hot Chip and their sonic jungle

Anyone passing through the lobby of the Fox Theater last night would have guessed, by the WHOMM WHOMM WHOMM of thudding bass and the polychromatic splashes of color across the glass entrance doors, that the normally-rock-band-friendly theater had been taken over by a massive rave. While there were, indeed, sparkling electronics, trumpeting synthesizers and a solid sense of rhythm, a live band was to be found onstage, with five total members contributing to intricate layers of percussion, electronics, and even vocal duties. The quintet, however, was not a group of tribal-clad or neon-covered techno gods; they were, well, five fellows who love music just as much as the next guy. Collectively, they are known as Hot Chip.

Another interesting difference about tonight was the fact that a good portion of the crowd was in attendance for the sake of the opening band, either as well as — or even instead of — Hot Chip. Seeing as the openers were London’s dark indie rockers The xx, this was not a difficult concept to grasp. A stark contrast to the nonstop dance energy that is Hot Chip, the trio of The xx — Romy Croft on guitar, Oliver Sim singing along with her and playing bass, and Jamie Smith on a set of drum machines — played under stark white or blue lights, churning out haunting, moody tunes very reminiscent of… well, nearly nothing at all. Snatches of Interpol, the Jesus And Mary Chain, Joy Division, and the Black Angels could all be heard, but to try and pigeonhole The xx into even one of those bands or genres is not doing them justice.

The xx open the show.

The xx open the show.

The stark, raw sound and the simplicity of the compositions truly stands out in a musical world obsessed with throwing everything at a wall and hoping that most of it will stick. The beats and rhythms chosen by Smith were also of excellent caliber, often times indistinguishable from a real drumkit, and he added to the mix by bringing a cymbal onstage near the end of the set. The final song of their set, “Infinity” saw Sim toss his bass aside and viciously attack the cymbal with Smith while Croft raged away on her guitar. A roaring multitude of cheers greeted the band at the end of their set; sadly, they did not return for an encore performance, but, such is the nature of an opening act.

The xx's setlist

The xx's setlist

Three massive banners, each depicting the trussed-up marble head on the front cover of Hot Chip’s new record One Life Stand, came into view between the sets; once the band took the stage shortly after 9:00, these were flooded with light, in addition to the dense foliage of color that was cast on the rest of the stage. After a short hello from lead vocalist Alexis Taylor, the show kicked into new life as Hot Chip began their set with “Hand Me Down Your Love”, the second track from the aforementioned new album. The response was immediate; the hundreds of audience members who had remained transfixed on the stage while waiting for their heroes to emerge suddenly burst into movement, and the band moved to match. Nearly all four members of the band contributed backing vocals to the song, with each member also banging away at some form of percussion, keyboard, or some stranger instrument heretofore unseen in an electronic act, such as a steel drum or a set of maracas.

The real beauty of Hot Chip’s performance, however, comes in their art of molding and shaping their compositions together, forming several larger pieces that are made up of numerous individual songs. Most of the songs came in waves of two to four pieces at a time, with an almost seamless transition between the songs. Any songs that had a more raw or simplistic sound in the studio was given new life with the multitude of instruments onstage, and the multi-vocal duties added an even fuller sound to the already densely-packed songs. While the band was, more than likely, extremely capable of crafting intricate loops and repeating synth trails, they were not content with even a moment’s rest for any of its members, with each one throwing themselves head on into every single song.

While not quite as breathtaking and surprise-filled as some of the more stratospherically-famous acts this week, Hot Chip’s performance held its own in the week of pre-Coachella performances at the Fox Theater. Except for a few pauses between song blocks, and the onstage silence of the encore break, there was not a moment of Hot Chip’s performance that wasn’t filled with music and activity onstage. The band members trading instrument roles throughout the set, as well as within the songs themselves, added a new level of excitement and complexity not normally seen with any act that could be remotely called “electronic”; even the band’s new single, “I Feel Better”, normally awash in autotuned vocals, drum machines and dancehall synths, was punctuated by unprocessed vocals and a drumline that was built by no less than three of the members of the band.

Tonight’s show was a wonderful combination of music; both The xx and Hot Chip gave excellent performances and demonstrated how complex, and how minimalistic, any piece of music could potentially get. It was also a real treat to see two acts on the bill that could probably each headline for the night, or trade the duties as the tour went on. Hot Chip’s approach to music as an ever-changing medium that can still be built without the aid of computer layers was a breath of fresh air in today’s musical climate, while The xx’s excellent percussion section gave me new hope to the future of electronic drums. While I was as surprised as many members of the audience to see the two acts together, believing that the contrast between them might be off-putting to fans of the individual bands, it ended up being quite the experience, and I hope that they might even be able to collaborate on future performances.

Hot Chip's setlist

Hot Chip's setlist

Setlist photos provided by Jonathan Pirro.
Concert photos by Jared Hanson.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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