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Scenic Route: The xx in Manila

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Last July 30, indie rock darlings The xx brought their unique minimalist sound to Manila for the first time. The London based trio of twenty year-olds is coming off the successful release of their second album, Coexist, the follow-up to the Mercury-Award winning album, xx. In a short Asian tour that includes dates in South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan how did their show in the NBC tent fare?

In true Philippine fashion, the first opening act, Taken By Cars, began at 8:30 pm. (a full hour and a half after the slated 7:00). The crowd hadn’t fully settled in, but vocalist Sarah Marco got the crowd going for a bit. Their quick 20-something minute set was probably the most upbeat of the night (which really says more about the style of the other bands).

At around 9, indie powerhouse Up Dharma Down started playing, and when indie heartthrob Armi Millare took the stage, the crowd went nuts. It would have been easy to mistake them as the headlining band. They played a five song set before delegating the crowd to another long wait.

After another half-hour that may or may not have included a person passing out, 100-pesos for a single soft drinks or mineral water, spilled beers, false starts, and everyone trying to find everyone they knew at the venue, the lights finally dimmed. As the eerie beginnings of Try played, a blinding white light flashed from the foggy stage, illuminating the trio as if their arrival were some sort of epiphany.

From the get go, it was clear that the lighting was going to be as important to the experience as the sound. The following Heart Skipped a Beat, which had a slightly more upbeat sound, was accompanied by warm hues of blue, red, and purple that slightly throbbed along the song’s tricky beat. The song also got to show off the one-two vocal combo of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim.

At that point, The xx seemed like the kings of cool, not minding the crowd as they got lost in their own worlds. There had been no smiling, no talking, and they threw intense gazes that made you feel as if they were staring right at you.

Despite this, the band seemed to enjoy the crowd’s energy, and when they performed a slower rendition of Crystalised (again, they’re British), they shuffled the pace, seemingly to throw off the crowd’s timing. It was also an opportunity for Oliver showed off his bass-dancing skills.

The end of Reunion saw producer/DJ prodigy Jamie xx take center stage for the first time of the show, handling the steel drums while the song segued into his own song, Far Nearer. He used an assortment of instruments for the show, from cymbals, percussion instruments, and several electronic effects.

They played several more songs and took the time to say ‘kamusta’ and salamat. A few times as the crowd sang along, they might have faltered with a smile or two, but given the band’s demeanor, you couldn’t have been sure.

The crowd was really into it, singing along to even the lesser known songs and jumping up and down on even the slowest songs. By the time they got to crowd favorite VCR, the crowd’s singing was in full force. The venue was lit up to a regular visibility level, and warm colors once again emanated from the stage; the atmosphere was simply fitting for the song’s laid back yet feel-good vibe. The singing got even louder with Islands, as the crowd echoed “I am yours now, so now I don’t ever have to leave.”

And finally, the band flashed some grins, not expecting this sort of energy.. Romy thanked the crowd, saying, ‘this is incredible.’

They played one more song, Infinity, before the mandatory encore.

When the trio got back on stage, they played the much-awaited instrumental, Intro. The lack of lyrics might have pent up the crowds desire to vocalize something, and so the ending was met with a deafening roar that visibly affected the band. They flashed another set of smiles, and Romy had to wait a while before she could say a few words, and even then, each pause was met with another series of screams. ‘This means the world to us,’ she said.

They followed with the visceral Angels, the lead single off Coexist. Then they once again took center stage and bowed, with their parting words, ‘being as in love with you as I am.’ But for that night, it was the fans that got to show that love. It was an opportunity for an avid fan base to show The xx that it was them and their music that meant the world.

By John Sarao

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