As the sun dipped behind the buildings and the air cooled, fans flocked to the warmth and beauty of Detroit’s Masonic Temple. While the outdoors offered chilly winds, the interior of the Masonic served as an ornate backdrop for the night’s festivities: Sampha and the xx.
Performing in front of a luminous half-circle, Sampha’s mix of pop, R&B and electronic music was the perfect appetizer for the night’s main event. Bringing more life and urgency to his already emotive music, Sampha grooved, played and sung his way around the flashing, smoldering stage. The backlighting of the semi-sphere combined with overhead lights made Sampha and his band appear almost as holograms; their shapes and personas shrouded by lights and smoke. Though the staging was elaborate, Sampha still shone. His voice — strong and sweet — filled every nook and cranny of the historic theater. Even attendees who didn’t seem to know his work were enthralled. Closing with “Blood,” the theater was flooded with energized red light.
As the house lights came back on, the crowd emitted a new air of anticipation. Titters of excitement and speculation washed over the audience in waves. From those seeing the band for the first time to xx experts, the crowd at the Masonic was itching for a show.
Opening with “Say Something Loving,” the xx had the crowd rapt for the entirety of their set. The xx performed at the perfect intersection of an eye-catching stage set-up, a mastery of music and a varied setlist. Switching up pace, lighting and era, the xx’s atmospheric indie pop never went stale. Drawing from all three of their albums, the trio catered to old and new fans alike. The start of each song brought a roaring cheer from the audience — every song was their favorite song. From understated tracks like “Crystalised” to the dance-y “On Hold,” the audience knew every word.
And for that energy the xx were grateful. When not singing, Romy gushed thank-yous and smiled out at the audience. Her demeanor — understated and pleasant — paired well with the band’s emotional yet enthusiastic sound. Romy’s voice sounded just as pristine live as it does on record. The Masonic was the perfect venue for the band’s reverberating, ringing sounds. The strums and plucks of Romy’s guitar reverbed off of the beautifully decorated ceilings and arches of the venue.
While Romy stood, strummed and sang, Oliver Sims arched and swayed as he accompanied her on bass, the instrument acting like an extension of his body. Like Romy, Sims’s voice sounded as if it were pulled right off the record. As Romy and Sims provided the strings, Jamie xx bobbed and weaved between his beat-making equipment. Constantly in motion, Jamie’s presence was arguably the most captivating of the group despite his never speaking. It was obvious from his precision and level of control that Jamie is the bass-laden groundwork of the group. The xx even covered one of Jamie’s In Colour tracks, “Loud Places.”
As would be expected of an electronic indie-pop show, the production was impeccable — it was simple in material but impressive in action. Romy and Sims stood in the front with their guitars, while Jamie was mounted on a platform bearing all of his sound gear. Behind the trio were large, rectangular mirrors that ran from floor to ceiling. The mirrors spun at varying speeds, reflecting flashes and beams of light as they turned. Metallic flashes combined with the colors of the lights mimicked the large holographic X on the cover of I See You.
The xx closed on a quiet note. Returning to their roots, the band wrapped with “Intro” and “Angels.” The strobing, flashing lights of earlier in the show had faded away and left Romy, Sims and Jamie on a relatively blank stage, playing the songs that got them to where they are today. The xx is a band best consumed live, each pluck of a guitar or tap of percussion is better heard and felt in the moment. The nuances of the live show — the in-syncness of the three, Jamie’s masterful production and the clear, strong voices of Romy and Sims — made the music so much more than a regurgitation of material. It was art in motion.