On record, the xx have a flair for getting power out of understatement. But it’s difficult to keep things subdued when a packed room at the House of Blues immediately begins screaming along to your first song, as was the case Thursday night. From the moment co-vocalist/guitarist Romy Madley Croft began the opening notes of “Angels,” an ethereal highlight from the band’s new record “Coexist,” there was a sense that the xx is bigger than its three members and sparse arrangements.
Take the sprawling laboratory of drums, drum machines, and samplers helmed by producer/composer Jamie Smith. Positioned behind Croft and co-vocalist/bassist Oliver Sim, Smith navigated his three stations, making it more apparent than ever that it’s he who gives each track its individual flavor and force. For tracks from their debut, that flavor is not always what’s expected — Smith often manipulates his old productions, playing with tempos, drops, and pauses. As Croft and Sim launched into the trio’s 2009 hit “Crystalised,” he held off the beat, finally letting it tumble in halfway through (to much fanfare).
Toying with crowd favorites not only showed off the band’s continuing ingenuity, but also benefited other tracks. “Sunset,” which may seem too straightforward on record, ended up giving a welcome chance to lock into a consistent, familiar groove.
That initial sense of greatness came to full fruition when they closed the main set with “Infinity.” Smith’s intermittent cymbal snaps triggered blinding flashes of light, and Sim let loose, swaying violently and finally forgetting about his perfectly slicked-back hair. As the song built and Smith began riding that cymbal, the backdrop slowly rose to reveal a monumental translucent enclosure in the shape of an X. After a brief break, during which the audience was left to bask under the massive figure, the xx returned for a three-song encore, beginning with “Intro.” Fitting, because it felt like they just showed off who they really are.
Brooklyn synth-pop band Chairlift opened the show with a set that included the punchy “Sidewalk Safari” and the 2008 mini-sensation (courtesy of an iPod commercial) “Bruises.” Vocalist/keyboardist Caroline Polachek exudes a focused energy through her arms, shooting them out at her sides, withdrawing them just as quickly, then surging them back to work on the keys.
Andrew Doerfler can be reached at