Show Review: The xx with Warpaint and Zola Jesus at The Fox Oakland, 9/23/2010

by Jonathan Pirro on September 24, 2010

Welcome, they said welcome to the floor / It's been a while (Photo by Carla Deasy)

Welcome, they said welcome to the floor / It's been a while (Photo by Carla Deasy)

How often do you find yourself enthralled with an opening band? For most of us, the answer would usually be “not very often”, and in a fairly large sum of concertgoers, “hardly ever”. What, then, do you say when you find yourself attending a headlining show of that same band? Do you bite your tongue and feel a hypocrite, or do you revel in the fact that you are experiencing them again, and this time in a fuller, more realized capacity? It was, most likely, these sorts of thoughts and sensations going through the heads of many members of the crowd inside the Fox Theater tonight, for the band that had returned to Oakland for their second performance at this historic venue were doing just that: headlining. The xx were the opening act for the electronic masterminds of Hot Chip back in April; this time around, the dark, haunting-yet-danceable London rockers were the ringleaders of the show, which apparently sold out even faster than their previous Fox Theater show from 5 months ago.

In stark contrast to most of the rock bombast that routinely shakes the foundations of the Fox Theater, tonight’s acts were much more low-key and mellow, with a focus on the depth and beauty of their sound rather than the amount of adrenaline they could focus through a single power chord. Opening acts Zola Jesus and Warpaint both carried this spirit with them in each of their respective sets, which saw the stage of the Fox dimly lit with a small haze of purple and blue lights as the band members swayed and twisted across the stage. Nika Roza, the main lady behind Zola Jesus, was the most animated figure of the night. Most of the band’s set found her running about the stage like a woman nervous and possessed of a story she was desperate to tell in full, and her hop into the photo pit and subsequent run back and forth in front of the stage seemed to be an excellent complement for the emotional surge that the music took over the course of their set. The ladies of Warpaint took a similar approach, with all of the members undulating through various states of animation and dance while they chugged through the whimsical, brooding-yet-moving songs of their performance.

Romy Madley Croft, guitarist and singer of The xx (photo by Carla Deasy)

Romy Madley Croft, guitarist and singer of The xx (photo by Carla Deasy)

Despite the slight upsurges of energy during the more upbeat numbers of the openers’ sets, the crowd’s reaction was mostly subdued until the black curtain that covered the stage of the theater fell to the ground. The revelation of the large mixing desk of The xx percussionist Jamie Smith and its two iconic X-shaped lightboxes, bathed in almost blinding white light and a slowly-falling fog, immediately woke the crowd from their mildly-impatient chatter. After a thundering drum introduction on behalf of Smith and bassist Oliver Sim, a stark purple light cast the stage in shadow and threw the figure of guitarist Romy Madley Croft into sharp relief as she strummed the opening notes of “Intro”, the appropriately-named opening track to the band’s eponymous debut. To say that the crowd was ecstatic does not do justice, as the cheers and applause lasted all the way through the first half of the song.

With only a single album of material to play, there were some concerns that the shortness of The xx’s set would take away from the hypnotic hold that they had upon their fans for the evening. On the contrary, the band used the time well to focus all of their energy into the musicianship of each song. Coupled with a dazzling lighting array onstage, which combined a set of pulsing lights with the aforementioned lightboxes and a large, splintered “X” above the band, the dark rawness of the music was perfect for the great, spacious Fox Theater. Bassist Oliver Sim commented on his pleasure at being back in the Fox Theater once again and his shock at returning to host the show tonight; from the reaction of the crowd, it seemed that they were just as happily surprised as he was.

To space out the set and not be confined to the 11 songs of their aforementioned record, the band threw in a cover of Womack & Womack’s “Teardrops” which Sims described as “a song we haven’t played in well over a year now” and a great treat that they had managed to fit into the previous night’s set as well. The final songs of the night, “Night Time” and “Infinity”, garnered an ever bigger response from the crowd than the album’s many singles (including “Islands”, “Crystalized” and “VCR”), possibly due to the light show stepping its ante up even further. “Infinity” found its way into a great wandering jam, ending with Romy Croft building guitar loop after guitar loop behind the wall of percussion created by Jamie Smith and Oliver Sims; the latter joined Smith on his synthesized drums and real cymbals to create a truly wild drum sound. Only a small delay was to be found between this magnificent closer and the encore of the night, “Stars”, which wound down the final moments of the evening in a soft and gorgeous fashion before the band left the stage for good.

Unlike many of the concertgoers around me, and the friends of mine that came along, this is only the second time I have seen The xx perform. Despite this, I was deeply entranced by their music, which is so detailed and rich in its simplicity — an element rarely found in today’s world of music that is often packed as tightly as it possibly can be. The muted lights of the opening acts were ill preparation for the detail and wildness of The xx’s lighting arrangements, which kept the music at an echelon of powerful and gorgeous throughout the evening. I am now only saddened by missing the opportunity to see them in a more intimate space; however, The Fox Theater played a wonderful host to them before, and it was most appropriate to have them return to the same place. Same time next year?

The xx's setlist

The xx's setlist

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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