Wild BeastsEdit this event
The division between audience and headliner tonight is a physical one, true – band high on stage, gaggle grouped below. But there’s also a detachment that’s rather less tangible, albeit just as apparent; a schism of circumstance that confirms, for better or worse, that The xx have truly flown the indie nest and arrived at a place where their delicate songs have been co-opted by the comparative masses. Given the nature of their gestation, the gentle development of the band through their formative months, it’s an unlikely situation to have arrived at.
Nobody in the room, at an XL showcase event a few summers ago, was overly impressed by the glum-faced, black-clad foursome who awkwardly delivered a couple of tracks from their then some-months-away debut album. We all wanted to get outside, to get a drink; to escape the stifling heat and these… these… kids, whose music shuffled without purpose, the aural equivalent of a sulking teenager scuffing up dust courtesy of some trivial frustration or other. Now, shorn of a member and with the touring experience of a band several albums into their career behind them, The xx have become a remarkably tight unit. The songs from their as-good- as-eponymous debut come alive here, every one bolder and riding sufficient bombast – albeit without ever losing sight of the space-respecting studio originals. They must be the only band in the UK that can have a crowd singing along to an intro. But it’s here where a slight discomfort first manifests itself, a disconnection between architecture and appreciation, design and digest. These songs, they were (one assumes) never intended to be accepted in this manner, by a horde here courtesy of free tickets and without experience of the material beyond advert syncs and single releases. They weren’t written with expectations of one day being received by hooting and howling, along with and atop of.
Wild Beasts on the other hand: while the audience is largely nonplussed by their support set, featuring numbers from both of their studio albums to date, theirs are songs which do suit the clap-along, holler-hoarse reception their stage-sharers will later experience. Cut through the vocals, which continue to divide opinion, and the lyrics paint lustful pictures inside the mind’s eye. These songs are perhaps better tailored to a nation of FHM-reading, tabloid-scanning, tittle-tattle-teased boys in the uniform of high street fashion brands and girls in orange tan and too-short shorts than the tub-thumping proclamations of hollow triumph purveyed by Kasabian. Tonight’s Kendal-calling quartet sings of explicit and illicit encounters; said festival-conquering Leicestershire troupe: Dracula, deceased actors, split personalities and… setting things on fire. To these ears, the former’s is a more likely formula for success. But the charts tell a different story.
Contrastingly, The xx have enjoyed a commercial ascendency alongside considerable critical kudos, and this is reflected in their headliner role tonight, at a show that’s part of a ‘festival’ also featuring turns from Florence + the Machine, Scissor Sisters, Pixie Lott and Scouting For Girls. At every one of those shows the same behaviour will play out at the Roundhouse, attendees conditioned through second-hand experiences of seeing This Sort Of Thing on the television.
Tonight, there’s the sense that a fair few on the fringes of the throng would like to cry foul, halting the hand-clapping accompaniments to compositions that really aren’t suited to such a cacophony. Yet to the majority in this cauldron of a venue The xx are theirs to treat as they will – and tonight they will talk over quiet bits and slap palms to songs conceived in environments a million miles away from this show’s heady atmosphere. They bow, they depart, they return – standard show practice. But even when several critics could be heard uttering uncertainties about what they’d just witnessed in a dark room, the latest hopes of label with a (continuing) fine reputation, nobody was deluded enough to consider The xx just another band, playing to a long- established set of mechanics. Standard, no. Special, not yet. But even in defeat they exuded something… different.
The upcoming Mercury Prize will undoubtedly feature both of these bands on its shortlist. (If not, the panel needs to take a long look at itself.) Both have released albums within the assessment period for 2010’s award which stand out brilliantly amongst domestic efforts from so many other hyped-but-hackneyed outfits. Both, to these ears, stand a brilliant chance of walking away victorious.
Tonight, though, neither truly delivers on the excellence of their studio material – the first due to the common problem of playing to a new crowd (not their fault, and their set is excellent), the second through a strange juxtaposition of product and place that suffocates songs reliant on a finely articulated balance between rhythm and rest. Ultimately, the difference between The xx and so many other bands isn’t as pronounced here as it’s been at headline shows past. No slight intended, but as one division retracts so another expands. It’d be a real shame if refinement gave way fully to routine.
Photo by Gary Wolstenholme
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