Published Jun 07, 2013Brooklyn rockers Grizzly Bear and British pop band the xx performed their first of seven co-headlining shows at Echo Beach in Toronto, a show that marked the former's tenth performance in the city, according to singer/guitarist Ed Droste. The Brooklyn quartet took the stage first, playing a dozen tunes from their latest three albums, including six from their critically acclaimed 2012 effort, Shields. Each song was infused with the band's signature densely-layered melodies, and the band employed touring keyboardist Aaron Arntz to help them keep up with recreating their complex tunes in a live setting. Even though the band members were positioned in a line at the front of the stage and rarely looked at each other, their synergy was noticeable, and they were able to feed off of each other without making eye contact. This was especially prevalent during the various three-part harmonies between Droste, bassist Chris Taylor, and singer/guitarist Daniel Rossen, accompanied by the trusty drumming of Chris Bear. The compatibility between Rossen and Droste was noticeable throughout the night, such as during set opener "Speak in Rounds," during which the two effortlessly traded off vocal duties and occasionally sung together, and "Foreground," from 2010's Veckatimest, featuring a solemn piano intro from Rossen set to Droste's plaintive vocals. The band's musical diversity was also demonstrated with the grave "Foreground," sandwiched between uptempo swinger "A Simple Answer" and the cascading "Ready, Able." Despite being hidden by his many keyboards, even Arntz had his moment to shine, playing the intro to the band's biggest hit, "Two Weeks."
Although both bands were given equal billing, Grizzly Bear still felt like an opening act. Their set was slightly over an hour long, devoid of encore, and the venue was half-empty even at the end of their performance. The band's lantern-heavy lighting display was not as emphatic in the dreary natural light, but their natural musicality made up for the lack of theatrics. The fans quickly piled in between sets, and it was overwhelmingly clear that the xx was the band a majority of the concertgoers were there to see.
British electro-pop mavens the xx are known for their minimalist sound and aesthetic, and how they would be able to simultaneously fill the cavernous venue and maintain their image was unknown. The trio came on stage in all black, producer Jamie Smith took to his perch at the back of the stage to operate the electronic drumbeats, and singer/guitarist Romy Madley-Croft and singer/bassist Oliver Sim quietly settled at the front of the stage. However, any thoughts that the band couldn't manage such a large venue were quickly quashed; Madley-Croft and Sim slyly danced onstage in states of perpetual movement, accompanied by an impressive light show. Laser beams of light shot above the audience's heads, shifting and moving throughout the night while the band powered through their set of intricately crafted pop. It is one thing to be talented musicians, but the xx are undoubtedly talented performers too, as evidenced each time Sim and Madley-Croft coyly faced each other to the audience's gleeful shrieks. The duality between the two was best shown during "Sunset," first featuring Madley-Croft's breathy vocals over Sim's skulking bassline and Smith's electronic beats before Madley-Croft picked up the guitar while Sim sang, with Smith's beat throughout. Set closer "Infinity," from their 2009 self-titled debut, perfectly balanced the two sets of husky vocals with shimmering guitars, choreographed swaying and well-timed lights. This all culminated in white lasers flickering across the front of the stage, until eventually solidifying into the fitting shape of an "x."
The band returned for a two-song encore: "Intro," from their debut, was a warm-up for the closer, "Angels," the lead single from their 2012 sophomore album Coexist. The song was a fitting closer, captivating yet never overwhelming, and a summation of the band's aesthetic: atmospheric and enthralling, with constantly subtle changes, enough to keep the audience hooked. And, as true performers through the very end, Sim and Madley-Croft held hands as they walked offstage for the final time, adding yet another talking point for the audience members to chat about after the show. While those who were there for Grizzly Bear may have felt cheated, the xx's set surpassed all expectations, expertly crafting a spectacle enjoyed by many.