The xx Mix Introspection with Dancing at Stage AE

British trio takes expansive sound from new album to outdoor show

The xx performing at the Ilosaarirock festival in Joensuu, Finland in 2012. photo: Tuomas Vitikainen and Wikipedia.

The xx performing at the Ilosaarirock festival in Joensuu, Finland in 2012. photo: Tuomas Vitikainen and Wikipedia.

The xx leaned heavier on EDM than minimalism for their outdoor concert at Stage AE with oftentimes danceable results.

The English trio took the stage close to 10 p.m., opening with the urgent “Say Something Loving,” off this year’s I See You. Next was “Crystalised,” a song basic in instrumentation but elaborate in harmonies and dynamics. When the group crescendoed, it crescendoed, though never so much as to obfuscate those harmonies.

Vocalist/bassist Oliver Sim apologized afterwards for the late start time, citing technical difficulties. All was forgiven, especially as the band cued “Islands,” an example of its earlier, minimalistic sound—a haunting number.

The stage design reflected this minimalism. Downstage was bare, save Sim, vocalist/guitarist Romy Madley Croft, and two fog machines. Sim and Croft were dressed in monochrome: he in a white, short-sleeved turtleneck and black pants; she all in black.

A mirrored platform sat upstage. On it were transparent cubes, and on these were samplers and percussion instruments manned by Jamie xx (née Smith), who wore a Pirates jersey much to the crowd’s delight.

Three new songs followed “Islands.” All were well received, particularly “Lips,” which got people moving courtesy of an emphasis on Jamie xx’s electronic hooks. These hooks weren’t as prominent on the album.

The men stepped aside, and Croft stood in the spotlight for “Performance.” The song displayed her higher register. It made for a contemplative respite, but the show’s highlights were still to come.

“Infinity” upped the tempo of the studio version. Croft and Sim then moved downstage and stood side by side like rock ‘n’ roll sentries. Jamie xx cued the opening chimes of “VCR,” and the crowd applauded. When the chimes stopped, Sim teased the concertgoers with a few seconds of silence before picking up the tune on bass. The rest of the band followed.

“VCR” is a simple number about a couple watching video on an archaic form of audiovisual equipment, yet the audience, mostly of the streaming generation, was transfixed, with many singing along.

When it ended, the house lights turned on. “Looking good, looking good,” Sim said. He added that he used to dedicate the next song to the couples in the audience, but a recent breakup changed his mind. “I feel you get enough adulation from each other.”

“Dangerous” went out to the singles, who appreciated the dedication. The song, with its prerecorded horns, saw the xx loosening up, a mood they stayed in for the rest of the evening.

Sim put his bass down and laid the microphone cord over his shoulders, like a boa, for “Fiction.” Throughout the concert, he and Croft had great chemistry, sizing each other up from across the stage and rotating the necks of their guitars like boxers rolling their gloved fists, ready to spar. And spar they did, trading off lyrics concerning life’s three big Ls: Love, Lust, and Loss.

“Fiction” culminated this tension, as the musicians moved close to each other, then away, circling the stage, while Sim described a failing romance as a fiction albeit one by the protagonist’s designs.The song transitioned into an EDM-fueled version of “Shelter,” which flowed into “Loud Places.”

During the set, four mirrored prisms hung behind the band, and they often rotated 90 degrees, revealing widths striped with lights. On “Loud Places,” the lights became rainbow-colored, adding a psychedelic visual to the frantic audio. The rainbow pattern alluded to the album cover and title of Jamie xx’s solo album, In Colour. The song, which features Croft on vocals, was from this album.

Jamie xx left his sampler pulsing as he and his mates exited. He returned and improvised for a bit, the crowd dancing to every beat and electronic flourish. The rest of the band joined him for “On Hold,” which features “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” arguably the most deft use of a Hall & Oates sample. After “On Hold” came “Intro,” an instrumental ubiquitous at sporting events and on Pandora stations.

“Pittsburgh, thank you so much for all of your warmth and being so welcoming to us,” Croft said before the xx closed with the ballad “Angels.” Jamie xx’s use of a live floor tom and tambourine gave it extra warmth, and the concert ended as another singalong.

English singer and opener Sampha, a hybrid of Marvin Gaye and Radiohead, lived up to his pre-tour buzz. He melded soul with electronics and occasional Afrobeat rhythms, a sound which helped to tide concertgoers over during the long break between acts. The xx, who on record can occasionally sound too ethereal, were smart to follow his lead and play the kind of lively outdoor concert that a cloudless evening like Tuesday’s deserved.

Christopher Maggio is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor and tries to see live music whenever he can.