The Brixton Academy stage has seldom looked this dazzling. Decked out with a shimmering, chrome installation, it’s a backdrop that signifies the newfound splendour that emerged alongside this year’s ‘I See You’. The xx now cut a very different figure from the shy, downcast group that announced themselves with their eponymous debut in 2009, having quietly redefined what pop music can be across the eight years since.
With their record-breaking seven-night run at Brixton Academy, they’ve pulled out all of the stops to make this a week to remember. Film screenings, radio, club nights and guest appearances from the likes of Robyn, Savage’s Jehnny Beth, Sampha and Floating Points (to name but four) all feature on the self-curated Night & Day bill, merely scratching the surface of the spheres from which The xx draw. Two nights at the O2 Arena would have been a doddle, but here stand a band giving something much more back to the city that shaped them. Right from the posters that flank the escalators up Brixton underground station, the sense that something very special is happening in South London this week is palpable.
When an early one-two of ‘Crystalised’ and ‘Islands’ sparks a mass sing-along, it’s clear that even the more tender offerings will incite euphoria. Romy’s solo rendition of ‘Performance’ proves a standout moment of reflection, but the overarching story of the night is altogether more up beat. Old tracks are injected with all the vigour of the band’s new approach and the status of group’s unlikely star behind the decks and drum pads. Later, souped-up versions of ‘Fiction’ and ‘Shelter’ sit perfectly in among ‘Dangerous’ and a ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ indebted take on ‘Chained’, before Jamie’s own ‘Loud Places’ is given the full band live production that it so deserves.
Thinking back again to the group’s first steps, the idea of an encore led by techno beats and a sliced up Hall & Oates sample borders on absurd, but it’s a transformation that seems to suit them so naturally. It of course gives way to all the pop pomp of ‘On Hold’, before subsiding further for the ever-iconic two minutes that is ‘Intro’. Rapturous isn’t close to covering the applause that follows, a continuing and loudening wave of admiration that forces an overwhelmed Sim to gather himself before a final address. He speaks of the significance of Brixton Academy, perhaps only half-knowing the huge impression that he and his two mates from school are leaving on this historic venue. It’s a week that will live long in the memory of London from a band that provide its most universal soundtrack.
Photos: Tim Easton