Live review: The xx, Warpaint at the Hollywood Palladium
Oliver Sim, Romy Madley-Croft and Jamie Smith impress and show confidence; ascendant local band Warpaint opens.
In the middle of their set Wednesday night at the Hollywood Palladium, the xx announced that this was the first tour it's been on where all members could legally drink. “Cheers,” singer-bassist Oliver Sim intoned, before taking a bird-like sip.
It was a succinct reminder that Londoners Sim, singer-guitarist Romy Madley-Croft and programmer Jamie Smith have put scant years between dreaming in their bedrooms — one imagines a collective chamber covered in vintage Depeche Mode posters — and winning prestigious British award the Mercury Prize for their impeccable self-titled 2009 debut album of minimalist synth-pop.
The show, opened by Warpaint, local rising stars whose Rough Trade debut will be released in October, also functioned as a succinct reminder of the raw potency of teenage dreams, endless fodder for bleeding hearts bent over their Casiotones. There is longing for sex, money and power, but when the xx closes its eyes, it sees intimacy.
Clad in all black, Madley-Croft stood out front on the stage, surrounded only by a few smoke-filled cones of light, singing the first few lines of “Shelter,” a song about finding closeness and the insecurity that comes when it's all too easily threatened. There was little more than a few scratches at the bass and guitar to pad Madley-Croft's conversational vocals. Her voice is one of the band's best assets — velvety but still modest, a precision instrument perfect for delivering pillow talk for goths.
The crowd was adoring, holding up glowing Web-connected gadgets as if the band were performing to avatars first, bodies second. It's a fitting gesture for a generation that often hears music first through their Macs.
As technologically suave as the xx is — and Smith works wonders with on-the-spot beats — its music is still about the electricity of the first touch and the fright that comes afterward. The xx is slowly but steadily scaling its own wuthering heights of cold euphoria. The group's growing confidence is intoxicating to watch, mainly for the potential it still holds.
For the encore, in a frenzy of strobe lights, Sim beat on a cymbal, a rare moment of unleashed fervor. It raises the question: What could the xx become with live drums? Maybe that will be in the mix when the trio returns; it also announced this will be its last U.S. tour for some time.
Drums made a big difference for opener Warpaint, whose live show has improved greatly from its days of playing with chins shyly tucked in at venues around town. The group has always had a kind of charisma, but it felt like a secret it didn't want to get out.
At the Palladium, the fairly recent addition of drummer Stella Mozgawa freed up guitarist-vocalist duo Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman to rely less on vocal interplay — not that it's gone by any measure — and more on their stage presence and instrumentation. Instead, Mozgawa's resourceful drumming, a powerful cord braiding together the nomadic structure of the songs, supports the vocals. Bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg has more of a rhythmic partner to interact with, and her bass lines have become all the richer for it.
With shivering cymbals and darkly ringing guitars, “Undertow,” from the upcoming album, “The Fool,” was a show highlight. For Warpaint, the song is the wander; they're not afraid to dig down into the unknown depths. For the listener, it can be thrilling: It isn't important for Warpaint to name the private landscape they're describing, only that we desire to be there.
Photos: The xx, top, and Warpaint's Emily Kokal. Credits: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times