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The xx at the Palladium: Concert Review

The XX Palladium - P 2012
Kyleen James

The Bottom Line

The UK's buzziest band invites its loyalists to drown in drone, but side effects may include drowsiness.

Venue

The Palladium
Los Angeles
(Friday, Oct. 12)

British buzz band The xx packed Los Angeles’ Palladium on Friday night, but a couple hours before it was time to headline the 4,000-capacity hall, hundreds of ticket holders passed singer-guitarist Romy Croft on nearby Sunset Blvd. and likely never noticed.

With her trademark look -- side-swept bangs covering her eyes ever so strategically and an all-black uniform meant to blend not blast -- Croft, spotted outside the venue during a pre-show stroll could easily pass for just another in a sea of fans, which is perhaps one reason why, on stage, she connected so intensely with a typically hard-to-impress Hollywood crowd, many of whom had just weeks prior caught the xx’s performance at the nearby Fonda Theatre.

It comes as no surprise, however, that the xx, which includes bandmates Oliver Sim (bass, vocals) and Jamie Smith (everything else), would draw its fair share of repeat customers. The band’s songs -- a pastiche of heartbeat grooves, spacey, echoing guitars and a buzzy, constant drone -- are the textbook definition of hypnotic, while their understated delivery is an invitation for each audience member to get lost in his or her head.

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An xx show is nothing if not dark -- and that’s in every sense of the word. Their stage props: virtually nonexistent; lights go from barely there to blinding in a flicker, but mostly wash out the performers so all you see are long shadows and silhouettes. At times reminiscent in vibe to a Depeche Mode concert (though no one in the xx would be caught dead doing the Jesus twirl) and in aesthetic to Phantom of the Opera (the silent film version) or Frankenstein, with Jamie xx serving as a mad scientist in the wings, the xx’s music is moody and minimalist. Some find it sleepy, others captivating.

On Friday night (the first of two weekend shows in the city, the second appropriately set at another L.A. landmark: the Hollywood Forever cemetery), it was a little of both. Performing a mix of songs from their two albums, 2009’s Mercury Prize-winning xx and Coexist, which was released last month and debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200, the trio hopped between proven crowd-pleasers like "Crystalised," their very first single, and “Fantasy,” both sung by Sim, letting his barely-above-a-whisper deep bass tone fill the room and shake it to its core.

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The band used downright Floyd-ian segues to introduce more recent fare such as the sparse “Missing,” the hopeful duet “Reunion” and “Sunset,” which truly lets Croft’s breathy vocals shine. The same can be said of warm-up numbers like “Angels” in which Croft wistfully pines for an intense love, and “Fiction,” where Sim takes the lead.

After appearances on several of America’s biggest festival stages -- including Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits -- the band seemed relieved to change up the material, remarking at one point, “It feels so good to be playing new songs.” Further proving their evolution, from the band heard on an AT&T commercial to true trailblazers of indie pop and beyond, they even turned the lights up in the form of a giant illuminated X, which made its debut near the set’s end. Dawn according to the xx, you could say, and it was glorious.

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin

Kyleen James