Last night was the official beginning of the XX's victory lap (tour) of America. Just one year after their self titled debut album dropped in the US, the XX sold out the Hollywood Palladium and so it was fitting that the entire evening would fit their mysterious aesthetic.
The stage was haunted by shadowy figures leaping though clouds of smoke and flashing lights. Honestly, it would not have been a shock to hear, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair / Hover through the fog and filthy air” issue from someone's lips during any of the sets.
Kicking off the theatrics, Zola Jesus took the stage looking like a gothic priestess in a black hood, with three shadowy figures in tow. Through the clouds of orange smoke one could vaguely pick out a drum set, some keyboards, and a synthesizer lined up neatly at the front of the stage, like soldiers in a row before an attack.
Each song began ominously with stark rhythms that were eventually dressed with synth melodies that droned tediously, and right when the audience was about to sign them off as just an average synth pop band and get another drink, Zola Jesus would open her mouth and crush their hearts.
Pulling back her hood to reveal a shock of blonde hair, the lady would stalk back and forth across the stage like a tiger in the zoo, just begging to be let loose in the crowd. Her dark, husky voice was so powerful that the microphone looked like it would wilt in her hands. Both Florence and her Machine should take notice: they've got some real competition coming out of LA.
The real tragedy was that the instrumentals paled in comparison to this voice. It was blending caviar with EZ cheese. Those twinkly synth melodies should have been an entire string section, those drums should have been multiplied by ten, and a full choir backing her vocals. Oh and while we're at it Zola Jesus should have been given a Viking helmet and a spear. That would have done justice to the power of that voice, but as it stands the instrumentals just get obliterated by her vocals. One can only hope that on the next record she'll find a sound that does it justice.
Warpaint was up next. The ladies strolled on stage nonchalantly in t-shirts and cardigans as if it was their living room and picked up their instruments. It was a truly forgettable set.
Their guitars hummed like steel drums that were held together by a steady beat, which was fine, but then the vocals sounded like they belonged to three different songs.
The disjointed harmonies put together by Jenny Lee Lindberg [bass], Emily Kokal [guitar], and Theresa Wayman [guitar/keys] were at best soothing and at worst mind numbing . The shining star in the set was drummer, Stella Mozgawa. She held that ship together with her bare hands. Without her tight drum solos most people would have forgotten there was a band on stage at all.
When Warpaint finished their set, the crowd seemed to shake itself like Sleeping Beauty awakening after a hundred years, and when their darlings the XX took the stage an electric jolt was pumped through the crowd. Really, when the first guitar chords reached their ear drums, people freaked out. Whether the newly anointed Mercury Prize winners were pleased by this, we'll never know. There was far too much smoke to pick out any facial expressions, but one can assume so.
Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim filled the room with sweet whispers as the band launched into “Crystalised.” Built on big beats and simple chords, the XX's cold, slinky rock shimmered through the room.
Shuffling seductively the crowd followed every groove as the lights formed smoke rings on the wall. There was nothing hot-blooded about the set at all. The songs quietly dripped like icicles from a roof top full of unfulfilled promises and melancholy, which was very pretty to begin with, but after an hour or so got extremely depressing.
It made one hungry for a guitar solo or some filthy lyrics about sex in the club. Anything for a break in the desolation and make people smile again.