We were only a few miles outside of Olympia when the regrets began to set in. We were on our way to see the xx in Seattle, and Caitlin turned to me and said, “I am forcing myself not to say the words ‘I want to go home.’”
I knew just what she meant. I too had that deep knot of dread in my stomach, that sigh-full feeling that Seattle was just so far. I used to call it ‘club doubt.’ You know that feeling when it’s almost time to leave for the show and your couch or your bed beckons you lovingly back? That’s what club doubt is. Going out seems like so much trouble; so inadequate compared to the pleasures of reading a book (or paging through tumblr, if you’re Caitlin.)
It was ironic really. Because if anyone on earth would understand club doubt, it would be the xx themselves. Indeed, their music is like the soundtrack to club doubt. But what I learned in my long life is, however assailed you are by this feeling, you just have to force yourself. So I said to Caitlin, ‘you won’t be sorry.’ And I meant it. However, briefly, it was hard to recall what our motivations for going to see the xx were, especially on a Monday night.
One reason was that, the day I looked into purchasing tickets, they were only $20 on Stubhub and hence, irresistible. Another reason was that the xx are one of the only bands that Caitlin and I feel almost the same about, i.e. we both really like them. (Sadly, according to Caitlin, no one else at her high school does. “They like Drake,” she says, witheringly.) A final reason: a few years ago, I read an article about a gig they did a site specific show in the Drill Hall at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City for forty people or something, where each song was designed to fit a different room configuration, and ever since I’ve wanted to see them. I thought it meant they would put a lot of care into their performance (although in fact I now think it may just have been another manifestation of their almost pathological shyness).
So there we were, together. It’s not very great that neither of us knows anyone else to go to gigs with; I personally believe that there is something very pathetic about the sight of a mother and daughter at a concert, but we have no choice. As with club doubt, you just have to push on through. So an hour later, after the quickest journey to Seattle ever, there we were at WaMu Theater, either outside or inside Century Link Field, I am not sure which.
First we staked our places. My chosen place was seated about five rows up in the bleachers. Caitlin’s place was as close to the stage as she could get. During the somewhat dull opener (name redacted) this was easy, but at intermission tons of people flooded into the hall and began pushing and shoving their way forward. I know this, because we were in communication by text.
She: “There was almost a fight in front of me! B/cuz cutting.”
Me: “Put your elbows out and kind of biggen yourself. Like you’re supposed to do if you see a wildcat on a hiking trail.”
I had this sudden realization that this was possibly not the life skill I was supposed to be passing on to my child. But what the hell. Truthfully, going to shows alone isn’t the burden it used to be. Caitlin was easily able to cruise tumblr while she stood there. And the guy ahead of her was watching the Warriors.
“Find out the score,” I texted.
“90 something,” she said. “But the guy seems upset.”
Upset? How could that be? Caitlin and I come from a world where it is totally unthinkable not to absolutely love the Warriors, so it took us a minute to remember they were playing Portland. I’m sorry, by that I meant, they were creaming Portland, up by 50.
She: “What is the plexiglass thing in front of the stage?”
Me: “IDK. Either they have see-through monitors, or it’s a giant sneeze guard like you see on a salad bar.”
As I said, the waiting is no longer the hardest part. Even so, we were happy when the lights came down and a host of cell phone screens rose up, like tiny stars on stalk like hands, to dot the darkness with square pinpricks of light. Normally I decry that loose garland of cell phones lights that surrounds the modern concert, but the xx seem to have planned for them. Their set was designed to be reflected back at us, so that when an aurora borealis of lights flooded the stage, the accompanying cell phones would sort of echo that in miniature around the edges of your eyesight. It was glorious.
|photo by gina|
The xx might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I have always loved a dualing boy-girl vocal. All my favorite bands have that sound, the Reivers, Glass Eye, the Go Betweens, the Bats, the Chills, the Fastbacks, you name it. It’s such a better thing to have than just the voice of one gender. I can certainly appreciate a good singer-songwriter dude or lady, but at least on this one night, I thought, there ought to be a law that all bands must have dualing gender vocals. ALL OF THEM. Think how much better Fugazi would have been. Or the Replacements. Or even the Beatles or the Clash or the Ramones. Here: just click this link of a Bob Dylan song being done by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoff. You know I’m right, right? I mean, what’s The Rolling Stones demonstrably best song? “Gimme Shelter.” Q.E.D.
All this I might have predicted from the xx's records. What surprised me about seeing them live – and it was apparent the minute they opened their mouths – was how damned good they are. Good as in talented: the musicianship, the singing, the extremely perfect aurality of it all. The sound is mesmerizing, but so is the performance. On paper one sees them as that rarest and most suspect of things, the drummer-led band, but in performance they aren’t quite like that. True, the set is surrounded by rotating mirrors (so it looks like the world’s largest changing room), which gives the effect that Jamie xx is about five different people, and hence, subtly reminds us of his centrality. But Romy and Oliver are extraordinarily, especially Romy. Shouldn’t she be more famous? She’s a little like Kate Bush crossed with St. Vincent, if both of them were stone cold introverts. That shit deserves some serious attention, rock scribes.
|photo by caitlin|
Despite the smallness of their ambitions, the xx are super professional now; this was a set that clearly came direct from Coachella. But even so, there is something really homey, and maybe even homely (in the German sense, ‘heimlich,’ familiar) and organic about their presence that is hard to describe. They are, dare I say it, visibly sincere. Caitlin, who was closer to the stage than I, said that they really seemed to be performing in a tiny club, making eye contact with the audience. At one point, Oliver said “We just played Coachella, and that was fantastic, but it’s so nice to see the audience up close.”
Later, both he and Romy shouted out Seattle for being their favorite place to play. One of them said, “We first played here eight years ago at Nuemos, opening for Friendly Fires, and no one knew us at all, and I will always remember how welcoming and warm Seattle was for us.” This jibes with my sense of Seattle as of a place where music is embraced in a really serious manner (for the contrasting view, see blog post called “Under the Marquee Moon”). I had not heard of the xx eight years ago, but I can easily imagine what they were like then, i.e. much like they are now, minus the giant light show. In Seattle, they would have been met with the exact same serious sincerity that they themselves exude so effortlessly. It would have been a beautiful thing to be at.
As was this. Club doubt – vanquished again.