Live Review: The xx with Sampha at WaMu Theater 4/24

The xx

all photos by Matthew B. Thompson

“I feel like all 4,000 people in this room should hug right now,” the mid-30s woman beside me says to me as the house lights go on after The xx show last Monday night. I nod my head in approval. I understand what she means – not hugs of comfort but hugs of recognition of community and of the beautiful moment we had all been a part of. It was an unexpected feeling considering the massive size and warehouse feel of WaMu Theater, but The xx managed to fill up any empty space that remained in the 7,200 person capacity room. Long gone are the days when The xx would have such terrible anxiety over performing that they would turn their backs to the audience. They are certified stadium artists now who are capable of putting on an engaging and memorable stage performance – not bad for a band who, when paneling the people around me in between sets, most people called “mellow”, “bed music”, and “perfect for people watching.”

Speaking of bed music, opener Sampha also gave a surprisingly upbeat performance. Considering his latest release, Process, was a meditative, grief-laden album centered primarily around his voice and piano work, it was surprising and refreshing to see him perform with a full band while seamlessly blending both bangers and ballads into his set. In front a half orb backdrop that alternated between blues and reds gave the stage a spacey vibe, as if Mars was setting behind them, Sampha’s voice seemed unearthly. 45 minutes in space with Sampha was enough time to make you want to buy a SpaceX ticket and say goodbye to Earth altogether.

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If Sampha was the jet taking us to space in this metaphor then The xx were the party when we landed. It turns out the considerable wait in between sets was for good reason. The stage was an intricate set up of mirrored paneled walls that rotated and spun, emitting various colors and lights throughout the hour and a half performance. Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim were in front, while Jamie Smith (better known to some as Jamie xx) stayed planted behind a clear plexiglass desk housing his decks, synth, and various other DJ equipment. With Jamie shrouded in a plexiglass cage, Romy and Oliver were left to do most of the physical showmanship which they do in the most tender way. The love between these two childhood friends is palpable, as they spent many moments facing each other and nodding their heads in unison, as if playing only for each other, and doled out sweet cheek kisses throughout the night.

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The on-stage banter was minimal (and completely non-existent in Jamie’s case), but when Romy and Oliver did speak they mostly shared their love for Seattle. The last album was actually recorded in studios down the West Coast, starting in Seattle and ending in LA. “I remember our first show in Seattle. We were support for Friendly Fires at Neumos eight years ago… We were so far from home but felt so welcome here,” gushed Oliver, possibly making the Google search for “what happened to Friendly Fires” a top result in Seattle. Romy also expressed her love for Seattle saying, “It’s so pretty here… I just wanna say thank you to everyone here for being so warm and welcoming. We see you and we love you and we’ll see you again soon.” So the next time someone mentions the Seattle freeze, Romy’s got our backs in refuting that stereotype.

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The set was filled with a good mixture of hits from their three albums, The xx, Coexist, and 2017’s I See You. Peppered in were also a few tracks from Jamie xx’s 2015 solo album, In Colour, including the Romy-featured “Loud Places”. At the show’s end, all three of them came to the front of the stage, held hands, and took a bow as if this was their last high school play before Summer with Romy and Oliver as the cool seniors in the lead roles. Or, if we want to stick to the space metaphor, Romy, Jamie, and Oliver are Apollo 13’s Lovell, Swigert, and Haise and have just returned from space as heroes who have our eternal respect.

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Set List:
Say Something Loving
Crystalised
Islands
I Dare You
Lips
Sunset
Basic Space
Performance
Brave For You
VCR
Dangerous
Fiction
Shelter
Loud Places

Encore:
On Hold
Intro
Angels

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