Published 11/12/2012 | 06:00
For three, black-clad introverts whose default mode is fringe-in-face shyness, the xx have taken to stardom surprisingly well.
Shrugging their shoulders at the clunking cliche of the "difficult second album", this year they released Coexist, a confident, emotion-soaked follow-up to their (self-titled) Mercury-winning first LP.
It was one of those rare second records that takes everything people loved about a band's debut and ratchets it up, in this case forging something of delicate, occasionally breathtaking beauty.
So it's a shock that, as the evening begins, they appear determined to live up to their early caricature as cripplingly adverse to the limelight.
With the opening notes to Angels chiming out, the South London trio are concealed behind a lace mesh covering the entire stage.
In the cobwebbed dark you can just about see singer Romy Madley Croft, her melodramatically spiky quiff making her look like a sad cartoon character.
No sooner have they lived up to their gloomy-boots stereotype than they are upending it. As percussion kicks in, the curtain falls away, revealing three musicians visibly comfortable in the glow of the audience's love. Holding his bass guitar in front of him, machine-gun style, co-vocalist Oliver Sim, in particular, bristles with pop star charisma as he dances sinuously – though maybe that has a little to do with his striking resemblance to a young Luke Goss of Bros.
Strident minimalists, xx's formula tends to revolve around Madley Croft's tearful guitar lines (her debt to early 80s' gothic strummer the Durutti Column is obvious), over which Sim layers doomy low-end and croons in his hangdog lilt. In the background, third member Jamie Smith chips in with shuffling rhythms and frosty synth stabs.
The show acquires the air of a rave in a monastery during Swept Away, with Smith, crouched over a 747 flight deck worth of equipment, underpinning Madley Croft's spidery riffing with a shiny house groove.
During Night Time and Shelter, he deploys an arsenal of cathartic disco thumps, identifying that sweet spot between despair and elation that is the cornerstone of all great pop. Amid the Stygian throb are glimmers of a group that don't take themselves as seriously as the music often suggests. Sim's banter is humble and good-natured, the ghost of Spinal Tap is conjured by the huge, glowing 'X' that descends from the light rigging an hour in.
The only awkward moment arrives before the encore as Sim tells us it's great to be playing the opening night of their "UK tour".
But the room is so thoroughly entranced at this point, nobody bothers to jeer.
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