Jamie xx Walks a Tightrope at the Wonder

Vortex Music Magazine

With a sold-out audience on hand, would Jamie xx deliver the hits they were there to hear or wander down an obscure rabbit hole? Photos by Sam Gehrke

Jamie xx at the Wonder Ballroom on July 25, 2015—click to check out an entire gallery of photos by Sam GehrkeJamie xx at the Wonder Ballroom on July 25, 2015—click to check out an entire gallery of photos by Sam Gehrke

In the 11 months since I wrote about Jamie xx's stop at Rotture, he has had quite the ascendency. His first full-length album dropped in May to rave reviews, critical and fan alike; his day three Coachella set was broadcast across the globe via YouTube; and he embarked on a headlining world tour. That tour, dubbed In Colour after his debut LP, came to Portland’s Wonder Ballroom on Saturday, July 25.

Leading up to it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. His date at Rotture, 11 months earlier, ended up being a three-hour-long amalgamation of house, dub, drum and bass, future garage and The xx—his involvement in the latter group on that list being responsible* for half of the concert attendees at the Rotture show. (*According to a non-scientific poll of listening to people in the crowd while waiting for the bathroom or beer.) However, this time around, given the aforementioned reviews and corresponding press, he was arguably more well known for his work as a DJ than his work with his namesake.

Would Saturday’s show be constructed from the track list of his album, which most were there to hear? Or would it take the form of his previous appearance and shy away from his hits almost entirely? Taking the stage to a bold lighting setup, Jamie xx answered the question with a resounding: Why does it have to be one or the other?

The show began with the audible background crowd noise, lonely piano notes and rhythmic triangle of “Loud Places,” seemingly answering the question posed above with an attitude of “shut up and play the hits”—but that assumption was quickly proved wrong as instead of Romy’s lonely utterance of “I go to loud places to search for someone,” members of the crowd were treated to a piece of jazz that any crate digger in the crowd would have been proud to have found.

A few minutes later, a chorus of rousing voices arose from the background, the big drums kicked in, and gospel handclaps joined the undeniably catchy “I feel music in your eyes, I have never reached such heights” as the chorus of “Loud Places” came back into full audible clarity. Seconds later, rapid snares joined in and Jamie xx was once again in another sonic spectrum entirely.

This exercise repeated itself again and again, each time the output taking a different form, with a fragment of “Loud Places” (or any of the album’s other songs) looped into the background, revealing itself slowly as Jamie transformed listeners from a state of awe, to exaltation, to rapid head nodding. Then, an hour and 15 minutes into the set, following a rendition of “The Rest Is Noise” that had the volume cranked to 10, the introduction to “Gosh” teased itself out. The shots of “Oh my gosh,” first barely audible, grew louder and louder, and the lights changed.

Perhaps the most impressive feat of the night was the display of lights accompanying Jamie xx, often times silhouetting him against the stage, and a few times leading a viewer to ponder whether they should have perhaps had an epilepsy warning in the entryway. For “Gosh,” the lights changed to mimic the spectrum of color adorning the cover of In Colour. Rays of red, yellow, blue, green and purple shot out from the stage and then began circling throughout the crowd with the precision of a disco ball. Needless to say, it was really cool and really impressive.

As this display made way for a stage of yellow hues, a heavy bass hum reintroduced fans to the familiar sounds of the “Loud Places” introduction—only this time there seemed to be a shared understanding that it was no longer a tease and that the hits the crowd had been waiting for were a comin’.

Sure enough, following a full version of “Loud Places” (watch the music video below) came the familiar “I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times),” only what followed wasn’t the three-and-half-minute album version that listeners had come to expect—instead the audience was treated to what appeared to be a dancehall version with verses from Assassin, Konshens, Kranium and an extended verse from Popcaan. It really was a great way to end the night.

As the audience poured out of the sweaty Wonder Ballroom, I contemplated what I was going to write for this review. This show, like most, had its ups and downs. Sold out since it was first announced, throngs of sticky hipsters on molly were packed in like cattle. Much of Jamie’s set followed the familiar format of house, drum and bass and garage, a format I consider myself a big fan of, but one I’d rather experience in a club environment rather than a concert setting. However, the farther I walked from the venue and the bothers of a sold-out show, the more focused the night came in.

What we witnessed on Saturday night was an electronic artist staying true to the influences that drive his music, while still delivering a performance of the album that drives his popularity. Or, put perhaps a bit more philosophically: We saw someone expertly walking the tightrope between being underground and selling out.

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