Live Review: The xx with Mmoths at Newcastle Academy – 11th December 2012

By on Thursday, 13th December 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

The tail end of 2012 sees London’s BRIT award-winning minimalist three-piece the xx take on a handful of UK dates in promotion of sophomore long-player ‘Coexist’, before moving on to a far more substantial tour with the unspoken objective of cracking the notoriously fickle US market. TGTF caught their show in Newcastle upon Tyne, with the agenda of assessing how their darkly atmospheric sound would be received across the pond.

Mmoths Newcastle live

Support for the UK dates comes from Ireland’s Mmoths. Jack Colleran generates ethereal swathes of synths and found sounds, unnamed voices drifting with nary a care through his delicately spun melodies. Reminiscent of Baths at his somnambulent best, tonight he is occasionally backed by a live drummer and bassist; the weight which this adds to the sound is sorely needed live, the restless crowd silently pleading for something solid to alleviate their anticipation. Mmoths’ debut EP ‘Diaries’ is out next year.

The XX Newcastle live 1

The xx are a stylish band. Clad all in black, a complex white light show enhancing their studied, aloof manner, they carefully recreate much of ‘Coexist’, with selected pickings from lauded debut xx. Immediately it’s obvious that the live show brings a sense of soul and involvement that the records can sometimes lack. Romy Madley-Croft’s soft yet assertive vocal is entirely engaging, the delicacy of ‘Angels’ allowing her voice to gently whisper sweet somethings across the hushed audience. When the band are at their best, things soar majestically, but there’s always a metaphorical distance, an unseen foot on the brake. Their considerable appeal – bear in mind this is a big venue, fully sold out – is difficult to define. Such slow-burning subtlety isn’t usually a guarantor of mainstream appeal. Whether the Mercury nod, or the fashionable Bauhaus bleakness, there is something afoot here.

Despite the knowing stylings, and the adult themes, there’s something childlike about the simplicity on show tonight. Guitar chords are eschewed for singly-plucked notes, bass is straight as a die, rarely, if ever, wandering from root. There is more space than sound. The entirety of ‘VCR’ could be a child’s TV theme tune. But absent is the glee of childhood: this is the music of care; of thinking; of the architecture of love; of autism. Only Jamie Smith reveals and revels in anything resembling the conventional transcendentiality of music: only in his superb live drum machine work and real-time mangling of the entire band’s sound does anything approaching a release of emotion occur. But just when it seems that might inspire the entire band to shift to another gear of engagement, the song draws to a close, and the stage is shrouded in darkness once again.

The XX Newcastle live 2

The xx live experience is quite unique. It is elegant, distinctive, soulful and heartfelt. Yet at the same time aloof, knowing, and, at times, hollow. Rather a mixed bag then – more for thinking than dancing, more for savouring than devouring. Whether this suits the US taste in music is an impossible quandary – they’ve chosen mostly southern states, which one might lazily think not the perfect match. However, The xx have conquered all with their subtle charms – and it seems likely the US will be the next to succumb.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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