The XX @ Manchester O2 Apollo
Since dropping off the map a few years back it’s been a constant speculation as to when Mercury Award winners The XX would return. With the global success of Jamie XX’s ‘In Colour’, the chances of a band reunion felt like more of a pipe dream than ever. HOWEVER, hope was not lost!!! Late last year the trio announced their return- releasing a new single (‘On Hold’) and announcing both an album and tour. I am physically lost for words when describing the happiness I felt at this moment and it was something that was only topped after I had (very stressfully) managed to get tickets to one of their headline shows in Manchester.
Fast forward to 5th March I was at the Manchester’s O2 Apollo, a place which has seen the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club, Foals, and many others. To very little surprise the venue was already quickly filling up as I arrived but that didn’t stop me from finding a spot a few heads back from the barrier.
Already on stage was the support Francis and the Lights, a musical project led by Francis Farewell Starlite. Playing an interesting mix of laid back electronica and jazz I instantaneously fell in love with his music (and his dance moves). The crowd went wild as Francis said his next song was a cover of Chance the Rapper’s ‘Summer Friends’, a song both him and Jeremih feature on. It was obvious why, as soon as he started to play – for this is one incredibly talented individual. Another standout was his most well-known track ‘Friends’ which features both Bon Iver and Kanye West, so if you’re a fan of the likes of James Blake and Volcano Choir be sure to give him a listen.
As the night drew on, the crowd got more and more excited, heightened further by an incredibly jazzy remix of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up the Hill’, until finally it was the moment everyone that everyone had been waiting for. The cheers were deafening as the trio, made up of Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie (XX) Smith, took to the stage and launched into their latest single ‘Say Something Loving’.
Fan favourites ‘Crystallised’ and ‘Islands’ followed this- both taken from their debut album it felt as if I had instantaneously been transported back to 2009 and to the start of their career. It’s strange seeing one of your favourite bands over 8 years on from that point where it began, performing a mixture of songs old and new it is clear to anyone that The XX have grown and matured considerably as artists, musicians and individuals. Their newest material highlights this best with songs such as ‘Lips’, ‘Dangerous’ and ‘Brave for You’ echoing influences Jamie’s solo work.
One thing I love about this band is their friendship and the way they interact on stage whilst performing, after all the three friends have known each other since early childhood. Romy and Oliver are in their own bubbles together, swaying and dancing in time to the music and moving closer and further apart as each song progresses, up until they are so close it feels like you’re interrupting an intimate moment amongst the close friends. As this goes on Jamie XX does his own thing in the background on a raised platform adding to and completing the sound they’re producing. To remove any one of them out of the band would make the whole setup seem to be lacking a piece of the puzzle.
Romy’s vocals stood out throughout the set whether it was through the higher octave version of ‘Sunset’ with the added beats from Jamie’s Djing, or ‘Performance’ which she performed alone with only a spotlight- whilst bandmates Oliver and Jamie sat on the stage watching her, as in awe as the rest of the crowd. To class certain songs as highlights is an increasingly difficult task considering I found the whole night to be a beautiful masterpiece within itself. However, the stripped back and more ‘basic’ performance of ‘Basic Space’ could not go without a mention. The merging of vocals between Romy and Oliver with Jamie on piano showed further the progression of this truly amazing band and only tops the original recording. The response from the crowd after every song was incredible, applauses seemed to be never ending. Reading on the bands Facebook page the next day they stated that the audience reached 125 DB (20 DB louder than the sound the band produced).
As the set progressed, it felt as if Jamie along with Romy and Oliver became more relaxed and comfortable, as this was their first Manchester show since 2013. ‘Chained’ was more disco-y with the glittering lights reflecting off of the mirrors that surrounded the stage and also the ceiling above. Jamie working his magic as he DJed over the top creating a more ravy version and getting the whole rooming moving as if it was a club night. From then on, it felt as if each song drifted and merged into the next as Jamie XX continued to shine. ‘Shelter’ brought forth another remix of the bands earlier work and soon this had flawless merged into Jamie XX’s ‘Loud places’. The reaction was deafening. Lights changed from white the technicolour as the whole place became more alive than ever. Before long the band had disappeared off stage leaving the beats from Jamie’s platform to echo out as the crowd screamed for more. Soon Jamie had reappeared and was clearly in his element in what felt as if it could progress into a DJ Set (I probably would have died of happiness if it had). The encores themselves encompassed everything that makes up The XX as they performed one song from each of their three albums. ‘On Hold’ brought the raving and club culture that had influenced the latest album with the help of Jamie himself; ‘Intro’ saw us go back to the start as the opening track from the first album was this early period with the growth as artists. ‘Angels’ ended it all perfectly as the whole room echoed the lyrics, making it a magical end to a purely magical night.