Live Review: The Xx, Kelela, Kucka

15 January 2018 | 9:27 am | Bryget Chrisfield

"The xx create so much more than just music. It's sonic art and they're technically perfect, let's face it."

More The xx More The xx

The hillside is soggy leading down to Sidney Music Bowl and ponchos are even worn in the seats underneath the Bowl since it's raining sideways. 

After Earl Sweatshirt was unable to perform these shows following the death of his father, Kucka was brought in to play the opening slot. Thanks to bewitching singer Laura Jane Lowther - whose vocals are appreciated by A$AP Rocky (she supplied BVs for two tracks on the rapper's debut album) - Kucka bring a chilled, dreamy groove. Tonight Lowther is backed by a live electronic beat-maker and we appreciate the gold-and-black colour palette utilised in this duo's stage outfits. Spasmodic, glitchy track Rewind is a set highlight. 

Our attention is immediately drawn stageward as Kelela plus two backing vocalists and a beat-maker - all clad in white - strut on stage to take their places. Her DJ's ice-blue hair adds a sliver of colour and the impact of their entrance is striking and ultra-professional. Kelela Mizanekristos boasts a magnetic stage presence and her textured sleeves emphasise those expressive arm movements while back-up vocalists demonstrate fluid, sometimes contrasting, chorey. Her voice is crystalline throughout and flawless three-part harmonies hypnotise. Kelela's glorious pipes elevate the Gorillaz song Submission (alongside Danny Brown), but her own material is more measured, uncluttered R&B. She presents a song about "reconciling with your ex" (multiple times) and we could use some extra volume since some of the sonic subtleties blow away on the breeze. Punters cheer appreciatively during the more upbeat, skittish Rewind and Mizanekristos smiles broadly, remarking, "If I weren't brown, I'd be blushing". The foursome file off in an orderly fashion, the same way they entered, and we immediately start Googling to see whether her sideshow is already sold out. 

Rotating columns of mirrors and mirrored tiles rotate onstage. The xx appear, Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft at the front of the stage, bookending Jamie xx who is elevated dead-centre on a riser. Sim swoops low, swaying the neck of his bass to the rhythm. Jamie xx plays a wide variety of percussion instruments with enviable attention to (beat) detail and we're pretty sure he'd rig up a special cymbal in order to achieve a one-off accent. Say Something Loving comes in at song two. Those harmonies! Sim and Croft singing simultaneously is swoon-worthy wistfulness. Their sounds ooze forth like liquid titanium. 

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

"Every show means something to us," Sim shares, "but this one, this one really means the world! We've been looking forward to this show for such a long time!" We can't tell if there are wind machines up on stage or whether it's nature's wind machine at play. It's smoky, atmospheric wonderment and blasts of weed smoke float by on the breeze. The xx provide a soundtrack for the soul-shattering ache of unrequited love; there's so much poignant sorrow within their music. The trumpet-blast samples, hi-hats and stuttering Dangerous beats see Jamie xx beaming up there - this track is more like his solo stuff. Sim's velvety timbre opens I Dare You then, at song's close, he takes a seat out of the limelight to allow his co-lead to shine during Performance and our hearts collectively break: "It is a performance/I do it all so/You won't see my hurting/When my heart it breaks". It's a brave, intensely personal performance after which Sim wanders over and kisses her affectionately. 

After its gentle opening, A Violent Noise guides us down to the basement party we hanker for ("Am I too high?/Am I too proud?/Is the music too loud for me to hear?"). After acknowledging our same-sex marriage Yes vote will lead the way and bring happiness to the lives of so many people, Sim points out their latest I See You set was released a year ago. Sim thanks his bandmates then gets a cheeky look on his face. "D'you know what? Jamie's worst nightmare would be if I ever handed him the microphone." We all holler our encouragement. Sim steps up on the riser and directs the mic toward his bandmate before Jamie xx simply says, "Thank you, everyone". 

A young girl on shoulders in the front section has her life made when Sim waves at her. Shelter from the band's debut album earns a rapt reaction. Rainbow-flag lighting design penetrates the smoke for Jamie xx's Loud Places (feat. Croft). He gets a bit freaky behind the console for a bit and then the trio plunge into the sublime, Hall & Oates-sampling On Hold to signal hands-in-the-air o'clock! Croft explains her band has a "connection" with Australia and Melbourne in particular. Sim gives a couple of charities, Heaps Decent and Minus18, a shout-out. "We see you and we love you, even in this lunacy," Croft concludes before Angels takes flight. Jamie xx utilises mallets for The xx's touching, emotional closer: "Being as in love with you as I am..." 

The xx create so much more than just music. It's sonic art and they're technically perfect, let's face it. 

As the venue sound system kicks in, no one is ready to say goodbye to The xx. There's wild singing and dancing on chairs to Lovefool by The Cardigans, but then the sound is cut to hasten our departure. Everyone boos. A rogue, drenched crew on the hillside bust into a stirring a cappella rendition of Can't Take My Eyes Off You, which morphs into Robbie Williams' Angels then Don't Look Back In Anger by Oasis as security guards descend in an attempt to move these revellers on. As much as we've been smug and dry under the Bowl, we're suddenly envious of these drenched, lit hillside rebels.