When THE XX began what would become a world-dominating journey, they were three awkward, shy teenagers that didn't have a clue what they were in for. Their music resonated across the world almost instantly, and for years they toured relentlessly across the world playing in almost complete darkness so that their soft and gentle songs would do the talking for them. Fast forward to 2017, and with years now behind them, they emerged from the darkness with their third album, I See You.
Quite literally announcing their newfound confidence with loud horns heralding the start of the album, as well as for the first time, their faces (albeit still distorted in a way) appeared on the album art, symbolising this readiness to be seen by the world - and to see for themselves. Now with an internationally recognised producer in Jamie Smith aka Jamie xx, Oliver Sim with some modelling campaigns under his belt, and Romy Madley Croft with a newly developed affinity for superb songwriting having worked in the American music machine, the trio were turning a new page in their shared book, and they were ready for us to join them.
What followed was a widely acclaimed album, and consequent mammoth world tour including Glastonbury, Splendour In The Grass and countless headline shows, but this time it was different. Gone were the small flickers of life on the stage from beneath the darkness, and now in its place was a fully-fledged, highly produced live show complete with props and lots and lots of lights. We recently spoke to Sim, who disclosed how excited he was for these shows, and having now experienced it, there's no wonder why.
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When the trio announced their return to Australia after having played Splendour In The Grass last year (their tour poster with all three faces printed clearly for all to see), something felt different this time. They were embarking on an ambitious tour playing some of the country's most spectacular venues - The Domain in Sydney, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne, and the Riverstage in Brisbane. Three open air amphitheatres where there is no where to hide. Fans got the feeling this was going to be big - and it was.
Catching the show at Brisbane's Riverstage, the excitement was palpable. From the openings sets courtesy of KUCKA (who replaced Earl Sweatshirt at the last minute) and Kelela who could've headline a tour on her own she was so completely captivating and powerful, the behemoth stage set up, complete with giant dangling mirrors, lay dormant as the set came closer and closer. Finally, as The xx were ready, the stage came to life in full technicolour to announce their arrival, and they were off. Seamlessly moving from 'Intro' to 'Crystalised', then into 'Say Something Loving', the crowd sprung to their feet to watch in awe.
As Sim and Madley Croft danced and swayed, moving across the stage and interacting with the audience, the joy on their faces was undeniable and completely infectious. The all ages crowd gave back so much love and joy in return as the trio worked through all three albums, playing choice cuts from each. You could feel how proud they were of themselves and this next chapter in their lives, it was truly radiating throughout the crowd to the point where you felt as if you were witnessing something really special, something more than just another show.
One particular highlight was when the pulsating bass of 'Dangerous' was reaching a crescendo, all for it to immediately cut as Sim and Madley Croft sung the hook of 'I Dare You', their voices ringing out through the night in perfect harmony. It was here that the show took an even braver turn, as Madley Croft told the audience in her typically hushed voice she'd be performing the next song alone. This was the moment that the palpability of the moment was really felt, as she began to sing 'Performance', with Oliver and Jamie sitting behind her, watching their friend.
From here, after rapturous applause, the trio were back into gear, saving the very best until last, including a cover of Jamie xx's 'Loud Places' and a live performance of his remix of their lead single, 'On Hold', before launching into the original version of the track and aptly finishing up with 'Angels'. Dedicating it to every person there, Romy and Oliver both took turns to sincerely thank the adoring crowd they were playing in front of, with Romy assuring each and every person there that they loved us, and they saw us.
For a band of teenagers that unknowingly struck fame, and was almost debilitated by shyness and awkwardness and uncertainty, they have emerged as a fully formed force. Their pull is undeniable, but they have managed to maintain their integrity in such a way that those same awkward teenagers that continue fall for their music all over the world (and have done so for the past ten years) have grown with them. Sure, now they're performing in bright lights with giant revolving mirrors swirling around them on an illuminated floor, but their main message of being okay with who you are is still there. They had so much genuine love for their audience, and were truly grateful that this next version of the band and themselves were received with such warmth, and it was completely reciprocated back to the crowd.In a time where there is so much wrong in the world, it's shows like this that help us find light in the darkness. This was so much more than a standard gig, it felt like a warm hug, like coming home.
I See You is out now.
All images by Dan Lynch for Purple Sneakers. Full gallery here.
Words by Emma Jones