Posted on 2013/07/29 00:26
  • Live Report
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The xx

Atmospheric art pop trio The xx kept it all in black and white as headliners on the White Stage Sunday night. A tough slot against the draw of The Cure on Green, yet somehow the straight edge trio still managed to pack the area and had people falling into the river.

A sparse meditative sound, utterly sexxy at times, completely stretching the limits of reservation and patience others, there is always this lurching tension present between bassist Oliver Sim and guitarist Romy Madley Croft as they drag out interludes, fill with their signature minimalist riffs and sing/speak their ambiguous lyrics sliding around the expansive stage. Jamie Smith (aka Jamie xx) provides a plethora of beats in the background, sometimes linked to the lighting as in “Heart Skipped A Beat,” and also with the occasional steel drum filling out the ethereal soundscape. Is this Japan or Jamaica? Jah mon, Jam on!

With a live show heavy on tracks from their uber-hit 2009 self-titled debut, the crowd was happily familiar with most of the set. Although, like lots of somewhat rock-less enigmas round the festival this year, there was hardly any dancing, not that you would expect there to be much, but still, for a closing headliner act on the second largest stage at the biggest festival in Japan… Then again, Bjork set a similar precedent the night before on the largest stage. I guess the times they are a changin’.

Howling echoes and with such infinite space between their carefully crafted elements of a song, some critics say that the xx live show is kind of boring. Although imagine for a moment the pressure on even the slightest error in this case. There is no masking a missed note, a forgotten lyric or slip of any kind, for in this landscape of scarcity, every change carries greater weight and stands out much more, crisp and stark against the atmospheric silence.

“Night Time” ushered in the modest use of high-powered lasers. It was pretty neat as the band sang “I walk out in stormy weather” and the smoke curled into the light and cast what looked like storm clouds over the audience. You think they planned that?

The long LED lights framing their backdrop began changing colors slightly, a live visual art technique perhaps referencing the fading sunlight-in-oil-spill “X” on the Coexist album cover. Later, they also cleverly shot a massive laser “X” across the entire façade of White Stage more than 10 meters high.

The new Coexist album hit “Angels” was a lovely ending to a set that was chock full of super hip love dilemmas and wordplay depicting youthful doubt and looming relationship questions everyone can relate to.

Oliver on the trio’s behalf genuinely thanked the crowd a few times throughout the set, and no one doubts that it wasn’t heartfelt. However, when the band exited stage left, the stage lights came on and stage manager came out with thumbs down, the crowd up front was a little disappointed at the lack of an encore.

So as more acts shy away from archetypal rock and move into an ephemeral realm of electronic fusion, a bit too broadly defined as ‘indie,’ what does that mean for Fuji “Rock” Festival, and the future of the musical genre as a whole?

Whatever the case, listening to The xx music for me was best with my eyes closed, forgetting those around me, and imagining a night-time drive, cruising through a dark city landscape, street signs and lights blurred outside the tinted windows of a sleek black Audi A4 as I pass by and time stands still. They wore all black to blend into the stage and remove the human element of performance while speaking lyrics of love and humanity. As an art piece, that metaphorical contrast is phenomenal. And with their influential art school history, maybe that is what they were going for.