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Review: The xx stir up a dreamy, fashionable night at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa

8

February

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You can argue that The xx are meant to be heard, but not listened to.

Their first two albums, xx and Coexist, are brilliantly blissful background music — seductive, minimalist electro-pop grooves in the vein of Air’s Moon Safari or The Postal Service’s Give Up. You can tongue-kiss to it. You can strut down a runway to it. You can purchase a Bulgari handbag to it. But you probably aren’t going to drive down the highway screaming along to it.

But to fully appreciate The xx, simply hearing them isn’t enough. You also need to see them.

The award-winning Brits blended their sinfully soulful songs with a spectacular light show at a long-sold-out Ritz Ybor Thursday night, creating a dreamy evening for nearly 1,500 breathless fans.

Following a menacing set of synthetic disco from Toronto synth-pop outfit Austra, The xx eased into action like a melting icicle with the sparse Angels and, soon, a slow-jammed rendition of their rumbling semi-hit Crystalised.

Co-singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim swapped breathy vocals as Croft’s chimelike guitar and Sim’s pulsing bass echoed throughout the Ritz. It isn’t saying much, but Sim is by far the most animated member of The xx, arching and skulking while delivering love-letter lyrics in a fashionably British New Wave moan. Songs melted into one another, from the delicate, dreamlike Night Time to the strobing, swirling jazz of Infinity.

But while Croft and Sim were front and center, it was producer/percussionist Jamie xx (nee Smith) whose gear dominated the stage. Hemmed into the back half of the stage by a sprawling playground of keyboards, drums and beat machines, Jamie steered the band’s direction while shunning the spotlight (it wasn’t until the eighth song, Sunset, that Croft and Sim stepped back so Jamie could deliver a synth- and steel-drum solo).

With Jamie xx behind the boards, the push-and-pull between Croft and Sim felt almost like black-box theater, like they were acting out their producer’s deep-sleep dreams. It’s a testament to the trio’s balance that no one member dominated the live show; with all three members dressed in black, it was a fitting embodiment of the band’s quasi-anonymous moniker.

The music meshed beautifully with a light display that got more stunning as the evening went on, with waves of watery light fanning over the crowd on Sunset, and a hypnotic prism of sparkles on closer Stars.

“Hypnotic,” “watery,” “dreamlike,” “minimalist” — these may sound like euphamisms for “snoozy,” and there are many who’d argue that’s dead-on. But many, too, are bored to tears by the world of high fashion, and that’s a force that drives many aspects of popular culture, frequently behind the scenes.

The xx’s music may be unobtrusive, but it is indisputably fashionable. Before you know it, you’re humming and grooving along. And here all this time, you didn’t even know what you were hearing.

— Jay Cridlin, tbt*

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[Last modified: Friday, February 8, 2013 1:04pm]

    

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