Review: The xx stage emotional return to Sydney at The Domain

It’s been nearly 10 years since feted London trio the xx toured xx, their dreamlike Mercury-award winning debut; whose minimal style – soft, breathy, heartfelt lyrics, enthralling guitar hooks, and chilly synths – would go on to spurn a series of imitations, bringing the then early twenty-somethings out of the broody shadows of the underground and firmly in the public eye for consecutive years.

The irony now being of course, their ‘lowkey indie’ music is presented with huge production values, in mainstream venues. Hard to hide behind a long fringe when you find yourself in an arena-size spectacular as part of your world tour…

Lucky for us, the xx have now perfected lighting up the overground, and have adapted to be able to fashion just as impressive a level of intimacy on a large scale. Their Sydney Domain performance on Saturday was a dream concert to start 2018 with. After several years of touring, encores, afterparties, solo careers, and three albums… everything’s changed, but nothing’s changed. They step out on stage – and there they are. We see you, the xx!! Sweet Romy, with your guitar, your nervous smile, leather jacket and boots, even though it’s the middle of summer… and Jamie! Our dancefloor hero, standing firm in a giant glass box of an engine room, on a raised platform. Oh and hi Oliver, with your deep velvety voice and your nice skivvy. Brooding over your microphones, still in black long sleeves and pants, despite the summers’ night. Like characters in your favourite movie; the sheer sight of them makes you feel nostalgic and warm inside.

As such – it’s nice to be reminded of where it all began – the appropriate titled Intro – the moment the world met the xx. There’s thousands of people there in the parklands of The Domain, but “Crystallised” still feels appropriately poignant – your soul immediately lurches for old flames and ghosted lovers. They’re flanked by a stage set of huge mirrored columns, that mimics the reflective surface of the band’s third and latest album, I See You, and the show makes great use of the coloured lights, hazers and strobes, without being overwhelming. The lights of the amazing Sydney city skyline to the reverse of the Domain, and the starry nights’ sky above, give us all plenty of places to gaze off into the distance, as the xx conjure up our emotions.

Throughout the evening one definitely experienced the progression from the half-whispered confessionals of their debut, to the evolved sound that characterised the 2017 album, “I See You”, an album marked by its bigger sounds, samples and sweeps –  “Say Something Loving” is first off the bat from the new album – the crowd are bathed in a warm pink glow, and are even more tickled pink when Sims promptly tells us that Australia has a special place in their heart… and “There’s nowhere else we’d rather be right now than here.” The crowd return the love, going crazy with a huge singalong for “On Hold”.

“I Dare You” loses a little of its studio vulnerability but is just as enjoyable as a super-charged live version. Childhood friends Croft and Simstride across the stage and move with purpose, their interactions are organic yet flawless – there’s something about the way they smile at each other, and move in and around each other on stage; duelling guitars – it feels so comfortable, so easy and honest. And Croft in general is just transfixing; one of the big surprises of the night was her unexpected frontwoman energy – while its true Sim did most of the talking, it feels like Croft’s really grown confidently into those boots of hers. A spotlight Croft solo during “Performance” really drove this home. New arrangements of early material appear, too – “Shelter” changes from its melancholy roots into a lush club anthem, bringing the material closer in feel to the more recent more vibrant material like “A Violent Noise”; one of the evening’s more atmospheric, energetic numbers.

In a nice tip of the hat to ‘quiet genius’ Jamie xx, and his enormous solo achievement with In Colour of late, “Loud Places” appears towards the end – and is all kinds of rainbow-lit hugeness. Then Sim and Croft leave the stage and Jamie xx does his thing for a few glorious minutes, all keys, samples, thunderous electronic percussion. Suddenly the giant show took on the intimacy akin to that of an underground rave (to be continued later that night, for those lucky enough to catch Jamie on the decks at his second secret Sydney beach rave that summer). VCR is the perfect closer; its lyrics ringing true – the xx still have all the answers… and we still think [they] are the best thing.

Dani Marsland