On a perfect (essentially) summer night, two relative giants in the world of indie rock descended on Columbus and put on a fantastic show that only left me wanting more. Coming off their fourth and second albums in 2012, Tuesday saw Grizzly Bear and The xx co-headline with outstanding performances of their best material.
As a disclaimer, Grizzly Bear are one of my favorite bands and I though it a shame that they didn’t headline this show. Thankfully, their music managed to shine brightly. The last time I saw Grizzly Bear live, they were the opener for Radiohead on the In Rainbows tour in Camden, NJ. This was pre-Veckatimest and the band seemed nervous, almost shocked at the call to play for the World’s Greatest Band. Tuesday, Grizzly Bear seemed at ease, even amused with themselves.
Songs were bombastic and energetic, taking on the kind of urgency that the live setting provides. The newest pieces from Shields were dense and pleasing, while the earlier material was well-polished without losing any weight or sincerity. Between songs, the band was light and jovial. Stage banter was playful, offering remarks about riding on swings, “keeping it real,” and eating Jeni’s ice cream. The highlights were their best songs, “Knife,” “Two Weeks,” and particularly astounding “While You Wait for the Others.” It’s hard not to get washed away in the echoing guitar as the song finishes and it was the true high point of the evening.
The xx, on the other hand, are a band I struggle to enjoy consistently. It was clear that most of the crowd was attending to see the British trio, so as darkness overtook the light and The xx began their set, the crowd became exceptionally energetic. Of course, I find this a strange reaction to the band and this feeds into a great tension that existed throughout their entire performance.
The xx are a quiet band that lurks in the shadows and whispers the secrets of lovers. Theirs is a smoky electronic noise, a personal and seductive style that seems best shared through headphones or on good speakers with a drink in hand. At odds with these feelings was the arena-type stage setup and massive production values of the live performance. Countless lights, lasers and smoke machines made for a grand spectacle, a far cry from the quiet ruminations of the music.
Yet at the core of the show (even beyond the music which was performed quite well) managed to overcome the over-the-top lighting: the physical interplay between co-singers and guitar/bass players Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. While Jamie Smith acted as DJ and established the percussive background above the fray, the singers exuded an unexpected sexuality and attraction that managed to match the very personal tone of the music. Throughout instrumental breaks in songs, the two would move about the stage, inevitably finding each other near the center. As the night continued, they would only move closer and closer, until finally they left hand-in-hand following the encore.
The xx’s balance between big-show lighting (gratuitous giant “X” made of lasers was almost worthy of eye roll) and personal interactions was a very curious one. I’m not sure I outright enjoyed the band (their albums are, after all, not some of my favorite music), but their best songs did play well here (“Islands” was their greatest showing, in my opinion) and the whole performance was memorable. Fans of the band are certainly encouraged to check them out live. Curious outsiders? Go see them if they’re playing with a band you like.