Sunday night's XX show at Sixth and I Synagogue was weird, in both good and bad ways. I previously saw British trio at Webster Hall in NYC, and was so taken with the venue and vibe that I had high hopes. But in step with current trends in soundproofblog sold-out show-going, this one didn't totally live up to the hype. DC stacked the cards against the XX to begin with: two shows on a Sunday, in a synagogue, are a unique feat for a new-wave-inspired band. Yet even with the buzz from sxsw, which followed the opener too, the whole thing was kind of canned (yep, I went there).
I enjoyed the first act, DJ Nosaj Thing, but it was lyricless, too ambient and non-engaging for a seated show. He would've been a perfect warm-up for a similar set at 9:30: folks coulda danced, drank, and generally got into the groove. In a synagogue, however, we all sorta snoozed.
The second artist, jj, was a rumored best of South by Southwest, and when the lead singer made her way on stage, a bundle of blonde, fabric and nerves, I was immediately endeared to her. Yet while her vocals resonated with me, her live performance peaked early. She swayed and shoegazed through a short Nordic folk set backed by a macbook and a projector, running her fingers through her hair and along her cheeks, straightening her shirtdress, doing everything but connecting with the audience. Then, halfway through, her male counterpart bound onstage, hugged her tightly, and fled; only to return for the last song, to strum some chords in one of the few rare moments featuring real live instruments. The duo then exited the stage, high-fived a few lucky aisle dwellers, and made their way out the front door of the synagogue...? Once the quizzical look fell from my face, I could only think, save the drama for your mama. Lay off the sauce. I'm not fifteen, I don't really need to witness the supreme awkwardness between bandmates. And yet, what did I do when I got to work today? I streamed the jj album. Because I sincerely love the lead singer's voice. I just wish she had a real band. And a little more passion.
[editor's note--a quick google makes this whole act appear to be a shtick]
The XX came on in a timely fashion and lit up the stage, literally. Bright strobe lights, soft disco ones, red patterns and a blue glow gave the set a more dynamic feel in the seated space. Without a setlist to remind me of the order, I know they hit the faves--VCR, Crystallized--and a pretty big encore, with a glowing backdrop of seeming stars shining from around a very big X.
I know the band doesn't really have staying power, though. Even when the colored lights change, every song sounds the same: very nineties, very new wave. A sound that didn't translate superbly to the synagogue, coupled with little to no interaction with the crowd or each other. As has become the custom of many indie bands, it was kind of like watching the album. But the brief moments of banter were peppered with gracious remarks, and I actually think the XX is very sweet. The majority of the pitfalls, IMHO, fell to the venue. XXs stage show was built for that--a stage, not a pulpit... it's not built for rock music, plain and simple. I say, move this show to 9:30, give it a Saturday slot, and you'd have me sold. See below for some pics and my scorecard--photo credits to onehandclapping! setlist forthcoming.
Setlist (courtesy of popwreckoning):
Heart Skipped a Beat
Do You Mind