At a sold-out concert at Seattle' Paramount Theatre Saturday, Oct. 6, English trio The xx presented an ethereal, minimal, yet fascinatingly precise show, writes Charles R. Cross in this review.

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Concert Review |

UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said, “It’s not how big you are, it’s how big you play.”

English indie rock band The xx proved that on multiple levels Saturday at the Paramount, with a set of atmospheric music that packed a huge emotional wallop, despite often sparse instrumentation.

Playing to a sold-out crowd, The xx began behind a gauze screen as they sang “Angels.” Halfway through the song, the gauze dropped, but it didn’t affect the sound, which was always ethereal and minimal. Each individual keyboard note stood out, as did every phrase sung by singer/guitarist Romy Madley-Croft.

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Multi-instrumentalist Jamie Smith and bassist Oliver Sim round out The xx, and though their sound would never be mistaken for a power trio, it was powerful nonetheless. On most songs Madley-Croft and Sim sang together, and they made enchanting harmony.

The staging was spare, but also affecting. For most of the concert the band played in near darkness, with only muted green or blue lights. When a white light was used, as on “Shelter,” halfway through the set, it felt syncopated, as if the light were another percussion instrument.

Most of the percussion came by way of Smith’s keyboard programming, but Sim’s work on bass also drove melodies. Sim was particularly effective on “Sunset,” as his bass wove between his vocals and those of Madley-Croft.

Still, Madley-Croft’s guitar was the dominant sound. She rarely played a full riff Saturday, instead favoring a style that saw her pick the minimal number of notes necessary to carry the melody forward, and no more. Her playing had similarities to U2’s the Edge, even as it was original and fresh. It always left a listener wanting more.

The xx’s main set lasted only an hour, with most of the sixteen songs culled from the band’s recent “Coexist” album. Only during the finale of “Infinity” did the band show any real artifice.

On that tune, another screen lifted, revealing a giant suspended piece of scaffolding that formed an “X.” The band played their one encore, “Tides,” with that single character looming over the stage.

It was an image — like the rest of the evening — that was simple yet poignant.

Charles R. Cross: or

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