The Usher Hall in Edinburgh is definitely one of my favourite big venues in Scotland. This is mainly due to the fact that I’ve seen some brilliant gigs there and that the sound is always perfect, but Its regal looking ceiling, sweeping balconies, excellent lines of sight and plethora of bars on every level also definitely help. The 2900 capacity hall was sold out for what was the last night of “The XX’s” three date mini UK tour in support of the release of their sophomore album “Coexist”. To say there was an air of excitement surrounding this gig is a bit of an understatement. People were queuing well before the 7pm door time and the touts outside the venue were extremely active buying and selling tickets for what was undoubtedly the hottest event in the city.
At around half past nine the house lights fell to huge applause and cheers from the crowd as the big white curtain that hid the stage flashed with the projection of the “Angels” video amid rapid bursts of strobe lights. It’s haunting intro engulfed the venue and was met by Romy’s pitch perfect sultry vocal. From where I was seated you could just about make out the shadowy silhouettes of the band but only when the strobes periodically flashed could you see Jamie’s expertly timed hits on the drums. As the curtain fell to reveal the band to another loud cheer it was clear that just as it is on the new album “Angels” was the perfect way to start the live set. Romy and Oliver’s duelling vocals on “Heart Skipped A Beat” followed on as plumes of dry ice descended onto the stage, once again disguising the band and letting the music itself be the true focal point.
Before “Fiction” Oliver took the chance to Address the packed room saying “We’ve not been in Scotland for a long time, thanks so much for bringing us back”. By the look and sound of the baying sea of an audience below me Scotland was pretty happy to welcome “The XX” back North of the border too.
“Crystallised” Squealed into life along with more bursts from the smoke machine, with the pairs vocals playing off each other brilliantly for the shouts of “hiiiiiighiiiiihiiiigh”. The breakdown of the repeated “go slow” at the end saw both Romy and Oliver caught perfectly in separate spotlights and visually looked like sublime isolation. “Fantasy” quite literally shimmered as masses of shiny gold confetti poured out onto the crowd. From where I was sitting in the balcony the effect was stunning and looked like golden rain showering down from the heavens and through the sheet lights below. (I had to watch my choice and sequence of words there)
Jamie’s steel drums at the start of “Reunion” added another dimension to the normally sparse soundscapes that the band execute with surgeon like precision. Along with “Angels” it was probably the song from the new album which made the biggest impression on me in a live setting. The middle section of the set was very fluid with “Sunset” not having a definitive ending and merging seamlessly into “Night Time”. The whole standing section of the audience were given another ceiling to gaze up on as three big white sheet lights spread across the venue while Romy’s pleas of “can I make it better with the lights turned on” in “Shelter” rang around Usher Hall.
As the sheet lights disappeared and the smoke cleared the opening chimes of “VCR” gave us our first real unobstructed view of the full band all night. Forming a perfect triangle Romy and Oliver took turns singing while Jamie hit the songs distinctive beat on the electronic drum pads to devastating effect. A deafening cheer then went up as the whirring start of “Islands” resonated out through the PA system, one which was then matched if not bettered at its end. Romy said a big thank you to support band “2:54” and thanked everyone for coming out to see them before “Infinity” drew the main set to a close. I love “Infinity” to me it sounds one-third spaghetti western, one-third Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” and one-third like it should be on the “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack. You may disagree, what you won’t be able to disagree with if you were at the gig is how spectacular it looked and sounded as the drum splashes were met in unison with long bursts of strobes as the giant X hanging behind the band was unveiled. On a separate note It also made me very glad I don’t suffer from epilepsy. The band left the stage to a deafening round of applause that quickly transformed into a chant for them to return and take position below their twenty-foot tall shinning X.
Making a triumphant return to the swell of “Intro” it was a rousing start to their three song encore and had every head in the Usher Hall nodding along in time to its infectious rhythm. It also saw large sections of the balcony getting up out of their seats and dancing. After “Tides” Oliver again thanked the crowd for their support in what he said had been a huge week for the band and also thanked their crew who he said were more like family. The understated brilliance and slow burn of “Stars” brought the metaphorical curtain down on what was a truly stunning performance in every sense of the word. Receiving a standing ovation as the stars in the giant X glimmered and faded out “The XX” without question proved that their collective stars are only on the rise.
I’m a massive Bob Dylan fan but on this showing and on the strength of “Coexist” itself “The XX” are definitely worthy of claiming that number one album spot this Sunday.