Oh, to be young and moody: So many ways to deal with all that trivial pain. So many self-destructive options for coping with the torturous grief of fractured relationships, existential calamities, and BBFs gone backstabbing. On their 2009 self-titled debut, London trio the xx seemed intent on talking (or at least whispering) all of it out. In a hushed, removed locution, leaders Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft exchanged a plaintive dialogue through a shivering ocean of dark texture and simplicity. Not much light made it down to those depths, but then again it was an adolescent take on adulthood, quietly dramatic innocence striving to act above its age.
Thankfully, the xx won’t grow up too quickly. In the trio’s return to New York, a city that “…has been great to this band” as guitarist/vocalist Oliver Sim said during Thursday night’s performance at Terminal 5, the band resurrected its inner Putney raver. On the band’s forthcoming sophomore release Coexist, they engrossed themselves in the night world, finding inspiration in the outrageous times they should have had, but missed while busy breaking out as teenage phenoms.
With Jamie Smith playing a bigger songwriting on Coexist, the BPMs have skyrocketed and the rhythms are bolder and more pronounced. Before, fans didn’t know whether to sway cautiously or hold each other lovingly to the music, at Terminal 5 it wasn’t an issue. “Reunion,” a new song that miraculously combines chipper tropical steel drums and desolate angst, started off typically enough with a drumless, verbal back and forth; midway, it morphed into a precisely snapping; up-tempo groove that begged for movement. During “Fiction,” another new track, an instrument-less Sim grabbed his microphone and paced rhythmically to an equally sparse and lush drum break, even espousing the role of front man for a moment. The band’s finale before their encore, “Swept Away,” was probably the most complex and fully realized expression of their new changing aesthetic. An incessant bass drum pound that introduced the song grew to crisp high-hats and deep, rolling tom hits, layers adding and expanding with taut expressiveness. Combined with immediate and bracing guitar riffs, it was an uncharacteristically aggressive, exciting mixture.
The band performed the entirety of its debut, and while most of the sparser, less dynamic pieces didn’t translate exceptionally well to the large space, others seemed to have room to grow. Tracks like “VCR,” “Intro,” and “Stars” slapped harder, reworked with added brawn and subtle snazz. The xx might not be ready to embrace party rock yet, but they’ve realized that dancing cures even the most tortured teenager’s blues.