Friendly Fires and The xx
November 23, 2009
Better Than: Anything involving Scissor Sisters; listening to Portishead's "Dummy" for the 37,392nd time
Ten songs into a stupefyingly energetic show at the Independent last night, Ed Macfarlane, vocalist for British disco-rockers Friendly Fires, sang what became a solid guarantee for his band's set: "We're gonna lose ourselves -- I promise."
At that moment in "Paris"-- the most explicitly escapist entry in the Friendly Fires' performance of shake-your-ass-now, think-about-everything-else-later anthems -- no one seemed to doubt him. Monday's sold-out crowd had started to lose it from the moment the thick beat dropped on opener "Lovesick." "Dance parties," as the ever-enthusiastic audience called them in shouts, had been breaking out from the stage to the back of the room during every song, but with "Paris," the night erupted.
Macfarlane was among the revelers losing it to the music. He shook every extremity in a possessed wriggle as if savoring his songs for the first time. At once Gumby-like and alluring, frontman's dancing only juiced the enthusiasm of concertgoers, some of whom were later overheard admiring the Brit's undeniably suggestive moves.
But if Friendly Fires were last night's pleasure-center provocateurs--and surely there was no more serotonin-releasing dessert available in San Francisco on a Monday for $15 -- The xx, who played second, were its Michelin star-equipped main course. The South London trio took the stage in all black, necks adorned with silvery chains. The coy smile that singer Romy Madly Croft flashed added to the feeling that this mega-hyped group is letting the world in on its dirty, great, early-twenty-something secret -- and completely, if shyly, loving it.
On its recordings, The xx seduce eardrums with the pop-inclined interplay between Croft's luring musings and bassist Oliver Sim's resolutely-male replies--all atop a blanket of bass-heavy digital percussion and with acres of negative space. Last night, Croft's saucy guitar and Sim's meaty-but-neat bass left more room for the drum machines of Jamie Smith to fuzz and clack and thud with welcome new presence. The crowd bathed in every beat-heavy breakdown it could get -- even though the Independent's sound system couldn't quite handle them.
While The xx ooze sexy-spare style, the band's performance last night exuded substance. The simple presence of the musicians seemed both cathartic and impressive, reminding us that such brilliantly slight songs as "Basic Space" and "VCR" were actually created by humans and not, like, transcendently minimalist, hyper-intimate aliens. At the end, when The XX members suddenly fled the stage and the house PA played a recording of their remix of Florence And The Machine's "You've Got The Love," somehow even the absence of bodies didn't disappoint. The crowd, too surprised at the band's sudden exit to fully applaud, was left waiting for more: A mark of perhaps the best kind of set, and certainly the best kind of band.