The xx / Sampha Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, Vancouver BC, April 25

The xx / Sampha Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, Vancouver BC, April 25
Photo: Joshua Peter Grafstein

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After four years away, the xx returned to Canada last night, playing to a sold out Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, located on the UBC campus. The group brought an impressive light show to showcase songs from their new record, I See You, which is heavily influenced by member Jamie Smith's work as a producer and DJ. The xx also dove into their back catalogue to perform sparser, more intimate numbers with which the audience was well versed.
 
Fellow Londoner Sampha made his debut performance in Vancouver, although his music was familiar to numerous audience members. Armed with a three-piece band, Sampha's evocative voice and intricate production wowed the room. He played from his debut album, Process, opening with the downtempo "Timmy's Prayer," before delivering exquisite renditions of "Under" and "Kora Sings." More strip-backed numbers such as the heartfelt, "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano" may have been lost to much of the chattering crowd, due in part to the vast space, but his set gave fans hope that he may return to Vancouver to play a more intimate venue.
 
The xx drew rapturous applause from their opening song, "Say Something Loving," from I See You. It is a perfect example of the evolution of the band, Jamie's use of beats and a sample from Alessi's "Do You Feel It," coupled with Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft's vocal harmonies. The post-punk tones of Sim's and Madley Croft's respective bass and guitar lines shone through, as the audience swayed in time. The band wasted no time getting back to their roots with an energetic rendition of "Crystalised," followed by the poppy "Islands."
 
The first portion of the set was a very enjoyable start, as the band juxtaposed their older tracks with the strongest numbers from I See You. "Lips" really emphasized the band's cohesion, blending club beats with the vocal prowess of Sim and Madley Croft. The middle section of the set proved to be overly lengthy, causing the band to lose some momentum. A bright point during this part of the show was the delicate, "Performance," which felt rather meta given the context. "Dangerous," amusingly introduced by Sim as "dedicated to all the single people in the room, because I am single and bitter about it," established a point from which to build the set's energy back up.
 
The lighting design added to the band's ability to magnetize the audience: reflective, mirror-like pillars revolved along the sides of the stage, with the full spectrum of colours used. A rainbow was only donned during the climax of the band's set, "Loud Places" (featured on Jamie Smith's solo record, In Colour). An infectious positivity could be felt in the room, as the song built into its iconic chorus sample. The band returned for an encore with "On Hold," continuing to feed off of the audience's enthusiasm. "Angels" let the band intimately connect with the audience, despite the room's size. They echoed Madley Croft's refrain: "Being in love with you as I am."