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It's rare that the words 'credible' and 'stage school background' find themselves in the same sentence, let alone to one group of people, but London four-piece The XX are something of an unusual prospect. For starters, despite the explosive array of beats that punctuate their ethereal dreampop, they choose to operate without a live drummer. Instead, producer extraordinaire Jamie Smith switches between various electronic gadgets and the odd cymbal to create occasionally earth shattering bass effects that double up as a synthetic antidote to the missing drums. In theory it shouldn't work, yet it does, creating a resonant undercoat permeating the guitar-led ambience that makes The XX - even after less than 12 months in the spotlight - instantly recognisable.
If ever there were a case for word of mouth preceding hype, then tonight is a shining example, as this show was sold out long before the foursome's popularity on this summer's festival circuit had spawned the many plaudits simultaneously heaped on their self-titled debut long player. The last time the Bodega crammed so many people in this tightly would probably be for 2008's buzz band, Glasvegas, which is somewhat ironic as the chord sequence on 'VCR' bears more than a passing resemblance to the Scots combo's 'Geraldine'.
Nevertheless, the four black clad musicians onstage barely muster a word between songs other than the odd "thanks" yet their repertoire has a spellbinding, captivating aura that ensures nobody moves for the next 45 minutes. Romy Madley Croft's distinctive guitar sound is crisp and clean throughout, while her vocal interplay with bassist Oliver Sim is an undoubted highlight, particularly on the sensual 'Shelter' and hauntingly menacing 'Crystalised'. Musically falling somewhere around the mid-point of Movement era New Order, Massive Attack's Mezzanine phase and the sepia toned ambiguity of Bronski Beat, The XX are a fascinating anomaly who despite eschewing little in the way of charisma, possess a glut of songs in their locker that raises the parapet to its next level.
It's somewhat ironic then that tonight's performance will be mostly remembered by many for their unique interpretation of Womack & Womack's 'Teardrops', which doesn't merely mess with the original's head, but seemingly supplies it with a brain transplant and ad hoc plastic surgery for good measure. Hopefully it won't become their albatross in a similar vein to The Futureheads and 'Hounds Of Love', as it would be a crying shame if their own exquisite compositions were overlooked in favour of an admittedly superior version of someone else's.
One thing's for sure though; make the most of any opportunity to see The XX in such intimate surroundings as these while you can, as it's a dead cert they'll be headlining venues of a much greater magnitude next time around.
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