The xx with Austra at ACL Live

The_xx-2The xx have defied all probability since 2009, because they’ve been a buzz band since 2009. Rather than burning out in a blaze of productivity or fading away with a hurried, lackluster sophomore effort, The xx meditated all their initial hype into their impressive second album, the critically acclaimed Coexist. Now, the band has embarked on a massive world tour, which stopped in Austin early this week for two shows. I don’t think I have to state the level of incredibility realized in selling out back to back nights at ACL Live.

Austra-6Opening the night was Toronto art pop outfit Austra, a somehow surprising and simultaneously sensible choice, the band hasn’t been too active recently but is devoted to a distinct artistic vision. While Austra sounds great recorded, built on the vocal dexterity of frontwoman Katie Stelmanis, their live show impressed beyond expectation. ACL Live is a perfect venue for this kind of avant-garde pop music; the sound system is impeccable and the lighting is top notch. Splashes of purple, green, and red lit the stage in rapid flashes as Stelmanis danced and posed. Austra performed an incredibly tight, if brief, set filled with solid songs, but closer “Lose It” dominated all others before. The song’s pulsing beat ended the set on a memorable note. Austra has a full-length slated for release later this year that will come with an opportunity to solidify their status as an indie mainstay.

The_xx-16The buildup for a set like The xx’s is immense. They haven’t been to the U.S. for years, while we’ve all been clinging to this tiny island of songs. Now that we’re riding the life raft of a second album across the ocean, the ship on the horizon and potential salvation lies in a once-in-a-lifetime performance. Calm and collected, The xx began their set beautifully with “Angels,” the song that first emerged preceding the release of Coexist. As I said above, the sound and lighting of ACL Live was immediately essential to the night. As electric notes rang out through the theater and crisp, booming tom hits thundered in sync with pulsing, blindingly bright white light. Continuously, throughout the night, the lights corresponded to the structure of the songs, and as Jamie (as he is endearingly called) stood behind two customized Lucite blocks each etched with a giant X, I couldn’t help but meditate on what a brilliant job the band has done with branding their minimal pop. When the images for the iridescent X that adorns the cover of Coexist surfaced last year, the entire internet went berserk.

The_xx-25Over the course of the evening, It felt like the band played almost every song from both albums, making sure they hit vital numbers from their debut record like “VCR,” “Intro,” and “Crystalised,” as well as new songs like “Chained” and “Fiction.” Although the group’s onstage charisma didn’t include dancing or energetic rocking out, the tightness of the songs was transformative. This approach makes perfect sense with the decisions of the band. Rather than explosive energy, they supply sustained focus and gentle cathartic release.

As the band ended their set, before returning to perform their encore, a singular, giant X illuminated the screen onstage—of course, the crowd completely lost it. It almost reminds me of some indie-rock bat signal. After outstanding sets back to back nights in one of the city’s finest venues, I don’t suspect that’s the last time we’ll see that X towering over the music fans of Austin.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

Pop Press International © 2017 All Rights Reserved

All photos licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress