Idyllic crossings and mixxed feelings

A smelly East Asian guy steps on my foot. Someone else spills beer on my leg.

I go into a corner, create my own little bubble there, and decide to spend the rest of the evening gnawing on the austere yet heartbreakingly deft music this British trio is about to let the audience hear for the first time live. The feeling was perhaps akin to taking your initial dose of blue xanny (not that I would know); and somehow, it went from haphazard to serene in a snap. This same impression has kept me pretty much in awe from the time Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim, and Jamie Smith (Jamie XX) took the stage clad in their signature black garb, up to the time of this writing.

My inner monologue told me that the sold-out crowd should be able to bring out the same energy level felt when dance punk quintet Taken by Cars and local indie darling Up Dharma Down warmed up the basic-spaced NBC Tent. I held my expectations high partly because the entire lineup of musicians that night belonged to my top five most played artists on Last FM; and because, on a larger note, I played The xx’s eponymous debut album to death during a specific time in my life when I was brimming with romantic illusions of nocturnal vigilantism and other similar sh*t.

Never mind that I didn’t know that they won a Mercury Prize in 2010 for their haunting debut. Or that they were born into the 90s and weren’t even midway into their 20s when this feat happened. I didn’t even bother to check which publications other than The Guardian and NME had them on their best-of-year lists. The trio clearly didn’t need to prove anything – not to me and certainly not to the legions of fans and music enthusiasts who came to the venue to see them perform. But as soon the first few lines from the opening salvo, “Try,” started oscillating in my mind, I found myself embarking on a pseudo-mission to understand where all this furtive hipness on display was coming from.

Was it coming from the drum pads and sample machines Smith oh-so-flawlessly triggered onstage? Was it from the way the two vocalists enunciated their narcoleptic boy-girl interplay? Was it from the manner in which the two made their seemingly paperweight passages sound profound and transcendental? Was it coming from the manipulative yet mesmerizing stares from Sim which also caught a number of audience members off guard? Did it come from Croft’s bedroom whisper-level, crystal clear tone that’s effectively feminine, honest, and sublime to a fault? Or was it from the preciseness and phantasmagoria that enveloped the polytunneled lights displayed throughout the show?

Wherever it was coming from was beyond me. Besides, I recalled being there fully prepared to eschew reason and logic – I was there anticipating to be caressed, smothered with English kisses, and tortured like a regret-laden loser in a Shakespearean love affair (all at the same time). As much as I enjoyed their crowd-pleasing openers that included “Heart Skipped a Beat,” “Crystalised,” “Reunion,” and “Sunset,” I started overanalyzing everything. I started noticing little nuances like how some songs were sung with playful, almost erotic deviations from the way they were originally recorded.

Somehow, I also sensed how the band members looked tired and weary underneath their piercing gazes, especially whenever the dizzying lights rippled exactly where each of them stood. Obscured by heavy billows of smoke and my heightened envy of the crowd in front of me who obviously earned their spots by shoving their way into their preferred space without having to deal with annoying concert behavior, I wondered if my night would end on a moody note.

About halfway through the set though, I reminded myself to loosen up and have fun since there won’t be any pop lyric quizzes after (just a pure and honest review to write) or ego-shattering ex-boyfriend bump-ins (never wished for it) of some sort. I started hearing the songs “Fiction,” “Shelter,” “VCR,” and “Islands” the way I enjoy them whenever I’d pop in their CD on my bedside player. I bopped my head back and forth while singing along to the overlapping call-and-response between Sim and Croft without having a care, still conveniently dwelling within the tight confines of my infinite bubble and against the quickened beats of my hopeful albeit parched heart. Throughout the set, the band consciously shuffled through songs from their maiden release xx and their moody sophomore effort Coexist. So it would be darned easy to say that the set was the perfect strut through The xx’s entire discography. Even during the encore, performing “Intro,” their iconic instrumental template off of xx and “Angels,” the well-received first single from their second outing, ever so confirmed that there was a witting aim for balance – and it was crazy and lovely in a painfully arresting way.

Less is more, they say. The xx never aimed to please; but the effervescent response from the Pinoy crowd made it quite apparent that they did without even trying. Confusion and tension aside, I’m certain that The xx’s enigmatic Manila concert will remain etched in my mind for a while, so excuse me while I deal with these feelings of hollow complexity. And I say all of these in the most stoic way possible.

This article originally appeared on the September 2013 edition of Gala Magazine.

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