Concert Review

Jamie xx - Marquee Theatre - 7/29/2015

What Jamie xx is trying to create and what he’s handed are often at odds. Jamie xx is best known as a member of acclaimed English trio the xx, purveyors of minimalist, somber pop-rock. Outside of the band, he’s also a sought-after DJ and producer who has worked with everyone from Alicia Keys to Florence + the Machine. When he came to the Marquee Theatre in support of his debut solo album In Colour, he tried to do something rare in EDM — make the world a smaller place — with mixed results.

But let’s back up real quick. When this tour claims to “support” In Colour, perhaps what is meant is that the tour is inspired by the album. Or better yet, the album supports the tour. In an interview with the New York Times prior to his tour, Jamie xx said, “I’m not going to play gigs as Jamie xx. I’m just going to DJ… I try to work in a lot of my own stuff in an interesting way and play clips of it so as not to be boastful, and also because I feel kind of awkward playing my own music.” One got the sense that he was trying to disappear from his music, so that its sound was all that was left.

Of course, that’s hard to do when many people were coming to his Phoenix show for that name: Jamie xx. His show was previously booked for Crescent Ballroom and tickets went on sale before his album had even dropped. The show promptly sold out and was moved to the Marquee Theatre, with its decided lack of intimacy. He intended the show to be about sound and dance, but all bodies in the audience were angled right at him. Of course they would be – at the end of the day, it’s a concert billed on his presence.
The strange thing is that this doesn’t seem to characterize Jamie xx at all. Throughout the night, he proved that he’s earned all the clamorous praise for his subtle, intelligent production. He grew up in London surrounded by dance music and his parents’ soul records, raves, or Camden clubs, and he sampled it all seamlessly. Digging through his vinyl collection, he played a bass-heavy jungle beat that pivoted into steel drums, then neatly slipped into a soul standard — a vast history of music filtered through one life. Jamie xx is true music nerd, and where others might seek euphoria, he just seems to seek a witness. His samples are no secret — he readily invites people to have access to his world.

Near the top of his set, he sampled his single “Loud Places.” The song was stripped back to its vocals, the haunting voice of his xx bandmate Romy Madley Croft confessing, “I go to loud places to search for someone / to be quiet with who will take me home.” The sentiment was a thesis statement for the rest of Jamie xx’s set. He was providing the loud place that could spark something quiet. Combine that with the vulnerability of Madley Croft’s naked voice, and it was clear that the set was about intimacy. 

Jamie xx isn’t one to draw attention to himself. He began his set with no pause after opener Young Marco. His production was relatively minimal, aside from a huge disco ball, and he kept his head down most of the night. At one point, dense fog illuminated by green light became opaque and completely shrouded his body, like he had completely disappeared. He barely played any of his own music, and the crowd was ready to dance to whatever came their way.

But whatever enthusiasm the crowd had promptly tripled when he played the lead singles from In Colour near the end of his set. When “Gosh” came on, a group of teenage boys near me surged to the front. “It’s time to fucking go!” the one near me roared with his arms raised in triumph, just as the song morphed out of its industrial march and into a more content pace.

When Jamie xx ended with “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” and “Loud Places,” he played them nearly the same as the album versions. No dramatic cuts, no mutant bass line. The crowd roared forward, buoyed by songs it already knew. On a tour when Jamie xx wanted to just be a DJ, his audience most wanted him to be Jamie xx.

But then the refrain of “Loud Places” hit me again. The song asks, “Didn’t I take you to higher places you can’t reach without me?” The “me” wasn’t Jamie xx. It was the guy in the faux man-bun next to me. It was the guy in front of me, dancing some horrible yet wonderful version of elbows-without-arms. At the set’s loudest, Jamie xx did his final disappearing act — backlit so his face couldn't be seen, no encore — to find a quieter place. We exited the theater and found ours.

Critic's Notebook

Last night: Jamie xx and Young Marco at Marquee Theatre in Tempe

The crowd: Did you know that the suggested dress code for this show was guys wearing pants? And even more preferred was guys wearing pants along with either 1. A snapback 2. A wildly patterned T-shirt or 3. A solid T-shirt?? I did not know this. Others: high school guys, men over 40 (but only with hair longer than 1 foot!), and people who danced from the waist up. 

Overheard: (during Young Marco's set) "This keeps going on. And on. I thought he was done 30 minutes ago."

Random notebook dump I: WHERE IS JERRY LAWSON, BEAUTIFUL OPPORTUNITY LOST (written in all-caps) "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)" samples "Good Times" by the Persuasions, led by Phoenix resident Jerry Lawson. He did not make an appearance.

Random notebook dump II: The set was perfectly paced, although the crowd had no idea when it'd be a good or bad time to clap. 

Random notebook dump III: My brother describes Young Marco as a "Southern California vibe meets old western" and I have no idea what that means, but I can tell you that's the exact opposite of what Young Marco sounded like.

Personal Bias: I'm a sucker for disco balls and sad music. And to be honest, I'm still a little bit confused about EDM in the general sense. So In Colour might be marketed directly to me.