The xx were back in Nottingham – four years after their last shows in Britain – for the first night of the UK leg of the I See You world tour. The band have a busy schedule ahead of them, including a sold-out residency at the O2 Academy in Brixton. If their performance at the Nottingham Motorpoint Arena was anything to go by, audiences around the world are in for treat: there has never been a better time to see The xx.
Francis and the Lights has featured on tracks by Drake and Chance the Rapper, but as a support act he managed to be simultaneously weird and dull, with an odd concoction of off-kilter dancing and uninspiring synth-pop. Maybe I was missing something – it was an energetic performance, at least – but there was no chance of stealing the show from the band everyone came here to see.
The band opened with their new single ‘Say Something Loving’, which boasts a hook so utterly brilliant and so refreshingly simple, that it seems odd that no-one else had written it until now. They played eight of the ten tracks on I See You, and this new material stands out partly because of Jamie Smith’s more expansive sonic palette: there are bright horns on ‘Dangerous’ and a greater dance sensibility in the instrumentation and structure of ‘Lips’ and ‘A Violent Noise’.
A common complaint levelled at xx and Coexist is that the band’s pursuit of such a singular aesthetic meant that some of the tracks weren’t particularly distinctive. That problem was largely averted here, in part due to the energy that came with performing live, but mainly because the band now have a greater back catalogue to choose from. The minimalism of early singles ‘Crystallised’ ‘Islands’, ‘VCR’ and the spaced-out ‘Chained’ and ‘Fiction’ from Coexist sounded as good – if not better – played to an adoring crowd.
There was a touch of experimentation with the arrangement of a handful of songs. The vulnerable ‘Performance’ was stripped down to Romy Madley Croft’s vocals and guitar, nicely complimenting its lyrics: “Since you stopped believing/I’ve had to put on my own show”. The band are a tight unit onstage (it’s strange to think that they had a fourth member), and Smith’s production and beats smartly accompanied Madley Croft’s and Oliver Sim’s back-and-forth vocals. Even the lighting had a lot of thought behind it. The pre-encore grooves of ‘Loud Places’ lit the stage up in rainbow-coloured light – a nod to the In Colours album cover – which perfectly complemented the song.
They came back out to the long-awaited ‘On Hold’, a song as good as anything else they’ve ever written. I don’t think many bands have two-minute instrumentals capable of sending the crowd into a frenzy, but the slinky ‘Intro’ did just that. The night went out on a high with ‘Angels’, an incredibly simple piece of dream pop wooziness, the faint refrain of “being as in love/love, love” seeming the only appropriate way for the show to end.