By Jane Morgan
The xx have created a world of their own at the Park Avenue Armory for their residency of twenty-five shows over the course of eleven days for forty people each. I was lucky enough to go to the 14th and 17th shows this past Monday and Wednesday.
If you know me in any capacity, you probably know too much about my unconditional love for the xx. I basically made a vow to myself when I was 14 that I would never love another band (or anything) the way I love them and thus far I have taken that very seriously. I have waited in line for six hours and skipped Paul McCartney’s set at Bonnaroo to be front row, I have come back to New York early from break for no reason other than to see them twice in one week, and I have probably made friends regret going with me to see them more than they or I care to admit due to the emotional state I am usually in. These past two shows at the Park Avenue Armory were my seventh, eighth, and most incredible times seeing them. Each xx show feels like a profound privilege, but these were different. These shows took place in a specially curated world.
On Monday night, I rushed uptown after class and entered the Armory not through the grandiose entrance on Park, but through a small side door marked by a swinging X above. The second person of forty to arrive, I sat down in the designated waiting room while anxiety about midterms fell away. Right before the show was to start, a staff member told us the band had kindly requested we turn our phones all the way off, and to follow her once we had done so. For the first time in my concert-going experience, people actually turned their phones off. We walked through a series of hallways, up and down stairs, people were chatting amongst themselves, and then we got to a constructed black tunnel, and everyone fell silent. It was the first of the unspoken rules that dictated the night. I was one of the first people to enter the small room, with fabric-lined walls and ceilings. In the middle of the room, Oliver Sim (<3), Romy Madley Croft (<3), and Jamie Smith (<3) were already waiting on a sunken stage that we were told to stand around. I felt late. I had never been to a show where the band waits for you.
As everyone made their way around and got settled with where they would be standing for the next hour, Romy and Oliver walked casually around the stage, and then “Angels” started playing to let us know it was beginning. All other times I had seen the xx, those first notes are met with massive cheers, but somehow there was an understanding that this time would be different in more ways than one. The connection between Oliver and Romy is always palpable, but at the Armory it felt as if you were being completely let in to their world, witnessing their interactions closer than ever as they held eye contact and followed each other in a dance around the stage. I felt like I was truly a part of this world, if only for an hour each night. They played the first of two new songs and I was fighting back tears both nights, as one does when The xx reveal new music, yeah? The shows were perfectly in sync with the xx’s very specific aesthetic. Projections of graphics from their second album Coexist and lights flooded the space at certain points, and the ceiling moved upwards before the tension broke in “Shelter,” the room turned to black, and the fabric walls fell to give a sense of the sheer magnitude of the space. Even when it was too dark to see how big it truly was, the power of the room was felt and seen in glimpses during sparse strobe lighting. The most meta moment of the show came when Romy faced a spotlight looking like a literal angel, and sang the closest song to a ballad the xx has ever done. It was the most special moment of the show for me both nights. She sang about performance in a way that I, someone who never performs really in the standard sense of the word, could deeply relate to, singing: “The show is wasted on you/ So I perform for me.” The whole show felt like less of a structured performance and more of an extension of the life of this incredible, incredible band who feel very human even as they have become more comfortable commanding the stage over the past few years. These performances feel like the ultimate embrace of that, though I imagine they were at least as nerve-wracking as their recent monumental shows at Radio City and the Hollywood Bowl. The shows ended with “Chained,” and the lights began to expose the true size of the space, in what felt like a perfect ending to an hour where space between the band and the audience, and the performance and the room had been constantly reckoned with. We clapped for the first time, and just as they had been there when we arrived, the band remained until we exited and decompressed in the reception room. I’m still decompressing.
I say this after every xx show, but these were truly the most special experiences of my life. They abandoned all perceptions of what a concert should be, and made it an xx world, which is the only world I have any interest in living in. Being a part of something like this for two nights with one of the most private bands is more than I could ever ask for. They are the most masterful, innovative band around, and I feel so fortunate to have seen this vision come to life. This band has truly changed my life, and I am eternally grateful for that. My friend who went with me on Wednesday summed it up when she said there was absolutely no way to talk about this, but I tried. I’m going to eat avocado toast in my xx jersey now and hope no one asks me about it because then they’ll be forced to witness my emotional state firsthand. These shows are definitely all I’ll be able to talk about for a while, and for that I am deeply sorry.
I want to end this with my new favorite lyric: “We fill up a vacancy that should be taken by somebody else.” I’m done now I promise.