The rivalry between Phoenix and Tucson is well-documented, but I'm not about to talk crap: The Old Pueblo's Rialto Theatre is a gorgeous, well-organized venue, and it was a perfect place to watch as The xx closed out its current tour. Last night's show sold out well in advance, and some desperate fans were paying upwards of $150 per ticket, even though the British trio will perform in Phoenix in two months. Seeing The xx end its tour in Arizona was pretty special -- even if those Tucsonans had to deal with a venue full of Phoenicians crashing the party.
I was one of many Phoenicians who bought a ticket for last night's show months ago, as The xx's Marquee Theatre and Coachella appearance had yet to be announced. Because of this, the Rialto was full of familiar, Valley of the Sun-dwelling faces, making it easy to forget about the two-hour drive home.
As the lights dimmed, singer/guitarist Romy Madley Croft strummed the familiar notes to "Angels," the first track from the band's LP, Coexist. The iridescent oil-on-water images from the album cover and music video were projected on a huge screen behind the band, making them appear as silhouettes. The light show amplified The xx's familiar imagery, just as programmer Jamie XX made the songs sound larger than life, thanks to miscellaneous percussive elements.
The band gushed sex appeal as Madley Croft sang in hushed tones about love, and the ladies in the crowd started screaming once singer/bassist Oliver Sim took the mic for "Heart Skipped a Beat." The reaction was especially funny, given that Sim is openly gay (as is Madley Croft). Not that I blame the gals, You always want want you can't have, and Sim's got that lovely, deep voice, and the music of The xx is handcrafted to inspire sexytime.
The band changed the pacing of some songs, first slowing down "Crystalised," its performance sultry and nearly a cappella. The audience struggled to keep up, prematurely singing each chorus as Madley Croft lagged behind. The slow pace was welcomed, as it made the lyrics that much more effective. Before playing "Chained," Madley Croft announced that the band made a new version of the song just for this tour. The new version featured prominent bass and keyboard tones, and was a drastic turn from the original. Fans sang along regardless.
"Reunion" was sped up and included a brief cover of Jamie XX's "Far Nearer," featuring Madley Croft and Sim on vocals. Jamie XX's steel drum tones continued, as Madley Croft smiled and brought more energy into the song toward the end.
The light show was a character all its own, as hard lighting and strobes emphasized key musical moments. The green flashing lights during "Swept Away" added a strange sense of urgency that reminded me of the scene in Cloverfield where the characters climbed the stairwell as emergency lights flickering in the background.
This feeling of unease was heightened during "Try" as bright lights blinded the audience and the song's electronic tones were emphasized. "Infinity" offered a bit of a release, as the color pallet returned to black and white and Madley Croft and Sim's vocals switched off in a beautiful song about loss that echoed Chris Isaak's "Lynchian" rockabilly stylings.
During the encore break, a giant white "X" modeled after the band's self-titled album art was projected on the screen. The band returned for a three-song encore starting with the instrumental song "Intro," prompting a good share of the audience to take video. "Intro" blended directly into "Tides," which brought back intricate color lighting and more bass.
Sim walked to the edge of the stage to say a few words before the band's final song.
"This feeling's like a wedding, sorry," he said with hesitation, thanking Austra, the crew and the fans for coming out for what he described as one of his favorite tours. He picked up his bass and the lights once again dimmed, this time revealing a bunch of white "stars" modeled after pinhole photography for "Stars," which echoed the lyrics and sentiments of "Infinity" and was a cohesive way to end the set. All three musicians stood in a line and faced the crowd to say goodbye in a bittersweet moment, but fortunately The xx will be back on tour soon.
The xx's Marquee Theatre show will sell out very soon, and it would be a shame for any fan to miss out on seeing them.
Check out the setlist and Critic's Notebook on page two.
Setlist: Angels Heart Skipped a Beat Fiction Crystalised Chained Reunion Far Nearer (Jamie XX cover) Sunset Night Time Swept Away Shelter VCR Islands Try Infinity
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Encore: Intro Tides Stars
Critic's Notebook: Last Night: The xx at Rialto Theatre. Personal Bias: I've now driven to San Diego and Tucson to see The xx. I can't wait to see them in my hometown. The Crowd: 20- and 30-something "hip" folks. Overheard in the Crowd: "Fuck this minimalist bullshit" -- some drunk guy that got kicked out for punching the wall. Wish I Could Have Heard: "Missing" and "Basic Space." Random Notebook Dump: People are probably gonna get pregnant tonight. Recommended Further Reading: The xx's Four-Part Guide to Modern Romance