For the subdued band, playing outdoors can be very difficult. There’s not just the issue with sound dissipation, or the obvious threat that the weather always poses – those are risks for any outdoor show. But for the subdued artist, there can be too many distractions for the audience, which can even overwhelm the artist – think chattering crowds, car horns, or even crickets. And outdoor stages are invariably high and removed from the crowd, leaving the artist high and removed, straining any connection. So the dice would have seemed to be stacked against the subdued The xx when they played New York’s Central Park SummerStage (QRO venue review) on Sunday, August 8th – but they came with their own loaded bones, ready to roll.
The xx have serious boomed over the past year, on the back of their universally acclaimed self-titled debut (QRO review). Indeed, on August 8th singer/bassist Oliver Sim remarked that it was just about a year to the day since the British band played their first New York show, at the (much) smaller Mercury Lounge (QRO venue review). Their moody, neo-New Wave sound certainly seems a much better fit for the intimacy of a small club like Mercury – and their live show has largely been the band standing stoically, playing very similar to xx. Outdoors, such activity – or rather, lack thereof – can really sink a band, and it was so the last time The xx played outdoors in New York, in 2009 at South Street Seaport (QRO venue review). Decked out like goths, the band looked like they were going to kill themselves (QRO photos), and opening for School of Seven Bells (QRO photos), no one knew their material, save for one super-excited woman.
But much has changed for The xx since then. By the time they returned to NYC for CMJ (QRO recap), they were already bigger than School of Seven Bells (though were still slotted opening for them – QRO photos). They still did some opening slots (QRO live review) to chattering crowds for dancetronic acts like Friendly Fires (QRO photos on that tour) and Hot Chip (QRO photos on that tour), but were moving up in terms of who they were opening for, and playing to large crowds who knew their material by the time of the Hot Chip tour last spring (QRO photos).
Still, The xx knew that headlining Central Park SummerStage was going to be a big deal – and needed a big crowd, which they definitely got. Even before first opener Jack Peñate (QRO photos), SummerStage had not only a massive line to get into the free event, but even a line at the VIP/press table (with lots of VIPs then trying to skip that…). SummerStage hit capacity some time during main opener Chairlift (QRO photos), which was especially impressive given that it happened while Cut Copy was still playing their own heavily-attended free show (QRO photos) in Brooklyn at Williamsburg Waterfront (QRO venue review) – many wanted to go to both performances, but few, if any, could actually pull it off.
The Waterfront show was a day show that blended into the early evening. The SummerStage show was a night show that started in the early evening, but by the time The xx came on stage, it was full-on nighttime – i.e., the best/only time for the dark band. And The xx didn’t exactly shower themselves in stage lights, using only occasional rotating colored spotlights. While this drove the photographers in the pit nuts, it was perfectly suited for the band. Though the photographers also griped about not being able to see in front of themselves, something that also hit security, who didn’t notice at least one person in the pit was without a photo pass until it was time for all photogs to leave.
This was a show for xx fans, and any of those who just showed up for whoever, because it was free, were likely uninterested – but they really shouldn’t have been taking up a spot when The xx have so many fans that wanted in. The xx indulged in lengthy renditions of “Night Time”, “Basic Space”, “Infinity”, and “Shelter”, but also did their own version of “9 PM (‘Til I Come Over)”, covering the piece by acclaimed German trance DJ ATB in their own way. Sim & singer/guitarist Romy Madley-Croft seemed happy & awed at least between songs (percussionist Jamie Smith was stoic throughout), and emotionally expressive when performing. For at least one night, the subdued ruled the outdoors.