“It’s been awhile, Vancouver,” Oliver Sims of The xx told the crowd. Their opener, Sampha, had just left the stage some twenty minutes before, after an incredible set ranged from the slow ballad “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” to the tense “Blood on Me.” With features on the latest Drake and Kanye projects, Sampha is just inches from the spotlight — I felt bad for the people who came just for The xx, and missed an artist whose music will be everywhere a year from today.
It’s been four years since The xx came to town, five years since their last album Coexist, and eight years since their debut album, xx, with their biggest hit, “Intro.” The xx have spent that time quietly bubbling away on the periphery, as their brand of cool britannia waxed and waned. Their music is tuned to the frequency of quiet self-reflection, and the stage at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre was designed with that in mind.
The band stood flanked by four mirrored pillars that were filled with lights and rotated with the music. The xx, despite a consistent chain of slow-burning radio hits, have never made it to that certain mainstream status. They’ve never become icons, never more than just a band. And watching them on stage, I could see why. Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sims stood on stage, doing little more than swaying side to side with their guitars in hand. The music sounded exactly like album tracks to the point of fault, offering nothing new to listen to, with no new interpretations.
The xx’s obsessive self-reflection has led the band to stagnate, and forced innovation outside its confines. The DJ and drummer Jamie xx released a solo album in 2015, In Colour, to almost universal praise. True to his London roots, the album was a mix of dance-hall infused pop and house, with vocal features from both Madley Croft and Sims. Given Jamie xx’s massive success outside of the band, the group has both embraced his success and a more house-centric vibe. The band went so far to celebrate Jamie xx’s success that they played the biggest hit from In Colour, “Loud Places,” on a rainbow stage.
It’s undeniable that The xx are bigger than they’ve ever been, and only getting bigger. But without a change in direction from just melancholy love songs, it’s difficult to see them not being forgotten. Sure, they have good bass lines and house-influenced drums, but does that excuse a sound that is neither here nor there? The xx will stay around, but I fear will never rise to the success that they have the potential to have — if they even want it.