Different locale, same concept.
As Camille pointed out, this year’s CMJ is pretty devoid of marquee acts; there are no gigantic queues for Spoon, the Shins, the Knife, or the like. What we do have is a compounded hysteria for the zygotes that would be second or third tier in other years but, in this year’s reticent line-up, are commanding all of the hysteria. Which is how a little goth band from south London became the instantaneous mascots for the entire, widespread scope of college radio.
The xx brought their “shoegaze r&b and noir-ish indie pop,” as they dub it (it’s also called “new wave”), to the Soho Apple store Thursday evening for just under an hour of Bela Lugosi bummery. The four 20-year-olds, who formed in 2005, culled songs from their recently released, self-titled album (it’s also called “their entire catalogue”) in the dim top floor of the steely, hangar-like tech depot. Before a few hundred badge-holders, and in earshot of unluckier late-comers who snaked down the stairwell and outside the store, they unloaded single “Crystallized” quickly into the 45-minute set; it sounded terrific, with the shared vocals of Romy Madley Croft (lead guitar) and Oliver Sim (bass) as gravelly and alluring as on record. Both proved content to stand immobile as My Bloody Valentine, with Sim’s bass occasionally threatening similar rattling volume, especially on “Basic Space.” They were flanked by keyboardist/guitarist Baria Qureshi and electric drummer/beatmaker Jamie Smith, the latter of whom was far and away the most entertaining member, stabbing joyously at his buttons with a smirk, frequently smoothing his baggy Ronnie Spector t-shirt. (All sartorial choices were black, naturally; as Voice critic Chandler Levack noted recently, these nutty emo kids with their asymmetrical hair and leaden hardware chains look “like the goth kids from South Park.”)
The group looked a bit unnerved initially, though it could have been the fatigue of their CMJ docket kicking in– their five shows this week were mostly sold out (one of several reasons purchasing a CMJ festival badge is counterproductive), with a Wednesday gig at Mercury Lounge, a midnight set later on Thursday at the leafy LES inferno the Delancey, and two Friday shows–the earliest of which starts at 11pm–at Music Hall of Williambsurg and Tribeca Grand. Even their Apple in-store performance will be sold on iTunes. They’ve got an admirable workhorse approach this week, surely. If anyone will benefit from the frugal thrills of this year’s CMJ, it will probably be these kids.