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Live Review: The xx w/ Kelela & Kučka @ Riverstage – 17.01.2018

Picture a rolling grass hillside with festival style food stalls at the summit, and an atrium-like stage jutting toward the slope. Fans are slowly filtering in, glitter-covered tops and mirrored sunglasses glinting in the afternoon sun. This is the Riverstage where soon enough UK indie-pop darlings The XX will perform.

Opening act Kučka arrives a touch late as ultraviolet, blue lights and smoke roll across the stage. Performing as a two-piece, Kučka breaks into some light snare sampling, fat trippy bass beats and intelligently placed ambient stabs, establishing the combination as her gig standard. She presents in high-waisted gold track pants, her voice is soothing despite an over-present treble from the sound desk. The sonic environment is the kind you might end an evening on after a big night of heavy house. Equally appropriate for a chillout room, a long drive or as part of an ultramodern gaming soundtrack, it’s a hot blend of hip hop, ambient trance and an oddly specific area of J-Pop. Overall, Kučka’s set is relaxing and extremely chilled.

Before long Kelela arrives—introducing herself to an appreciative crowd. Dressed in white under a spotlight and hypnotically waving her arms, Kelela shepherds the audience into a soulful glow. There are some genre similarities with the previous act, but comparison is outweighed by subtle, powerful stylistic differences. Kelela’s smooth, sensual vocals overlay sweet synth, underpinned by a distinctive hip-house infused EDM style. Artful harmonies flow in and out of opening lyric hook, “Falling into the sky.”

This is a well-rehearsed act. In unison, backing singers and lead vocal dramatically raise up their arms as the musical flow rises with them to a crescendo of big, bass-heavy beats. There is no break between songs, instead a constant movement of soulful sound, a montage of key change and seamless track-to-track flow. While album title track Take Me Apart is a definite highlight, Kelela’s performance is highly engaging from start to finish.

Kelela departs and the Riverstage packs out during the interim. Modern pop, hip-hop and soul standards play over the PA while an energetic stage crew mysteriously wipe down and polish the stage. People cheer enthusiastically at sound techs. Everyone appears ready, but the wait feels long.

Darkness descends over a stage bounded by inward-facing roof-high mirrors. The XX appear suddenly, swathed in a wash of criss-crossing light and reflected strobe. Reverb shimmers over simple, sweet guitar notes. Those husky-sweet, silky female to male vocals tones are unmistakable. Booming electro drums dominate the lower frequencies. The rhythm is huge, rolling and tribal. One song in and the crowd are already ecstatic.

The mirrors spin as a pink sea engulfs the audience. Familiar characteristic romance exudes with Say Something Loving. Only three individuals hold space on stage, but their presence is powerful. Swinging instruments, movement and light are used to full potential for an impacting visual experience. During and between each song, reflective surroundings turn slowly, continuously, then faster in time with the music. In one moment, silhouetted in blue, in another, all lit up in smoke and brightness.

Brass pumps out of the PA for Dangerous, then without warning we’re singing along with I Dare You. Vocals bounce back and forth between singers, blending effortlessly in and out of harmony. The show stops quite suddenly. Romy gives the crowd a solo rendition of Performance. Her delivery is emotive and rich and before we know it, we’re pulled to Infinity, a song that crescendos to a symphony of strobes. Lighting stunts aside, there exists a genuine and mutually appreciative energy between the band and their audience tonight.  A great cheer goes up as Oliver leans down and shakes hands with the front row, building into a joyful roar when he steps back and they move into VCR.

Despite the downbeat, soft mood The XX are often known for, many of DJ Jamie’s live percussive decisions seem designed to rouse the spirit. With the material already at hand and a flawless delivery, enormous drums might seem unnecessary. However, when coupled with a floor to ceiling full spectrum rainbow, the combination creates a new and immersive dimension. As the beat heats up, Romy and Oliver exit stage left, leaving only Jamie on deck. He strides into a beat-heavy club solo reminiscent of that cave scene in the Matrix Reloaded. It drops off quick and we’re singing along again, this time to On Hold.

Their song ends and the appreciative crowd noise borders on deafening. Audiences are often excitable but this display hearkens to earlier decades of music. Romy and Oliver chuckle nervously at the level of applause and thank their crowd sincerely, dedicating their final song to the smallest member of the audience. The stage turns violet and Angels begins. Watery notes and beautiful, emotional melody flow up and down the hillside, and when it finishes the crowd roars again. The XX take a bow, smiling and receding from view. Nothing remains but to wander away from the Riverstage into the night, full of wonder.

See our full gallery from the night HERE.

Written by Jimmy Sky

Photos by Cindy Yohana