Gig review: The xx, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

The xx singer Romy Madley Croft specialises in haunting, breathy vocals
The xx singer Romy Madley Croft specialises in haunting, breathy vocals
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On the day the latest batch of Mercury Prize nominees were announced, former winners The xx, if they weren’t so bashfully shy, could have easily been delivering a stark, simple but emphatic message to whoever claims this year’s title: beat this.

The xx, Usher Hall

Star rating: * * * * *

Latest album Coexist, released earlier this month, features more of a dance edge than their self-titled debut, a trait carried over into their live set from the get-go. Drums and dub bass pulsate and throb, like a heartbeat, providing a crunching counterpoint to Romy Madley Croft’s haunting, wailing guitar lines and the breathy, half-whispered boy/girl vocals.

Dressed all in black, the indie darlings spend most of the evening at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall backlit, almost constantly in silhouette, ensuring the focus is on the music, rather than the figures on stage.

Midway through, producer and percussionist Jamie Smith starts to segue tracks into one another, his heavy beats threading songs together. It transforms the evening into part-gig, part-DJ set, something that’s neatly reflected in the lighting design, more akin to a club night than a straight-up concert.

Whether it’s the halting use of a flickering spot, a swimming, swooning disco ball effect or the blinding strobe that accompanies the crash of cymbals on Infinity, the lighting proves the perfect complement to the sounds laid down before us, everything carefully choreographed for maximum effect, enhancing established hits like VCR and Islands and dramatically bringing new songs such as the tightly textured Sunset or recent single Angels to life.

The trio aren’t afraid to play around with the fan favourites either, resulting in a deliciously restrained Crystalised and the apocalyptically dense drumbeat added to instrumental Intro that resonates deep in the chest cavity, shuddering and shaking every floorboard, seat and surface in the venue.

It all culminates in a spectacular finale, the backdrop slowly lifting to reveal a giant transparent X which illuminates, hanging over the heads of the three Londoners, forcefully burning an imprint onto the brains of everyone there, much like the music itself.