If you're looking for devotion
New York United Palace Theater. 2oct10.
Ever since their emergence on the scene in 2009, The xx have been doing their darndest to dissociate themselves from the indie landfill. Early notices were more apt to liken them to Aaliyah or TLC than Pigeon Detectives or the Killers, their R n B credentials were talked up at every turn and their alma mater Elliott School has been portrayed as a South London voice for "the streets" rather than a partner to the Old Vic Theatre and the setting for the Christmas Pageant in Love Actually.
The venue for their latest New York venue seems to have been equally carefully chosen. Spurning the hipster alternatives of the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, the band were booked in at the United Palace Theatre on 175th Street and Broadway, way up in the Uptown neighbourhood of Washington Heights which, despite being namechecked in Vampire Weekend's ditty A-Punk, is a place to get your hair braided, tuck into a dish of Dominican fried pork or purchase a knock off New York Yankees baseball cap; not to enjoy a Stumptown coffee whilst flicking through pages of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern. The venue itself is so ornate it hurts - a temple in every respect and a riot of Moorish trimmings.
Mindful of those watching journalists, the band's cover versions were also impeccable - and the only occasions where the band strayed from the straight and narrow of their wondrous first album. Robin S is a gospel powerpopper it's OK to like and her Show Me Love was reinterpreted with wit and flair. Similarly, Womack and Womack's Teardrops proved itself to be aptly suited to the band's low key format, even if one still cannot get away from the Young Marble Giants comparisons; and the audience, encouragingly young in this era where one despairs of Generation Y, seemingly being comprised of the folks poked fun of in the website Stuff White People Like (I am one of these, I should add.)
As for the music, it was as haunting and echoey as one could hope for and occasional mini-wig outs, most notably at the beginning and the very end, hinted at future enlargement of The xx's sound. Despite the excellence of the cover versions, the paucity of new material was disappointing and Baria Qureshi's departure from the ensemble is still noticeable, primarily in the absence of rhythm guitar and keyboards to flesh out the band's sound: sparse to begin with, now positively emaciated. Vocally, Romy Madley Croft's voice was stunning and more effective on the night than Oliver Sim's rasp.
So, all in all, a triumph gracefully acknowledged by an unassuming band. I am still struggling to get used to $7 for half a pint of lager though.