Headliners: The xx at the Wexner Center
You know your band's a big deal when you top the hype totem pole at South by Southwest. And if anybody was the talk of Austin's annual music industry mecca, it was The xx, a trio of black-clad New Wave outsiders barely out of their teens.
The British upstarts' soulful, whispery twee seemed to be everywhere at last month's fest, which found most of the blogosphere-anointed bands of the hour scrambling around town from one gig to the next for days on end. All that hustle and bustle is great for exposure, but not so much for band sanity.
"It was pretty hectic, actually," said Romy Madley Croft, who plays guitar and trades vocals with bassist Oliver Sim. "We played CMJ [Music Marathon] before and we've done other similar things in the UK. I find them quite frustrating. We're perfectionists when it comes to our sound. Come to these things and the sound isn't perfect in a place where people are going to be judging you for your sound."
Croft need not worry about perception nor perfection. During a 1 a.m. set at cozy Mohawk Patio, minimal jams like "Crystalised" and "Islands" transcended the hum of crowd banter and stood up as less-is-more forces to be reckoned with.
For a band with no drummer - Jamie Smith rounds out the lineup on an array of MPC samplers - they had significant presence. And for an act that started out afraid to perform, they were pretty damn magnetic.
Ceaseless touring will do that to you, and that's been life for The xx since their self-titled debut became a critical sensation last summer. They've had to overcome bashfulness, inexperience and losing fourth member Baria Qureshi to exhaustion, but they've rounded into a capable live act. On stage as on record, their songs are more than the sum of their parts.
The minimal approach began by necessity during the group's early days as classmates at London's Elliott School, which counts members of Hot Chip, Burial and Four Tet among its alumni.
"In the beginning it started with whatever we had and whatever we were able to play," Croft said. "Some of those earlier songs were written when we weren't the best musicians."
For instance, the sweet, simplistic love song "VCR" is one of the band's first works. Since then, Croft and Sims have delved into darker territory, but the crisp minimalism and breathy sexuality that defined the band in the beginning endure. Just as the spare arrangements were an accident, so was the band attempting to come off as erotic.
"He's like my brother," Croft said of duet partner Sims, "so it doesn't feel very sexy to me."
The band has a long tour schedule ahead before they finally take a break this September, a respite Croft is looking forward to if only so she can get in the proper head space to write new songs. She and Sims require peace and privacy in order to create, two commodities in short supply for a traveling band.
Their journey brings them to the Wexner Center this Monday for a show with jj. Croft said The xx invited the openers to tour with them because they're big fans of jj's work, not just as a marketing masterstroke of double-lowercase synchronicity.
However, Croft admitted, "It looks good on the sign."
When: 9 p.m. Monday, April 5
Where: Wexner Center for the Arts, Campus