“You know, we’re not stupid,” Oliver Sim said Friday night at Austin City Limits Music Festival. “We knew we were going up against Jay-Z. We were fully prepared for there to be six people out here.”
There was a good handful more than six people at The XX’s headlining set on the first day of ACL, their 100th concert of the year. While the audience for the British band’s cross-park counterpart, rap star Jay-Z, stretched far and wide at the American Express stage, the Honda stage’s crowd was a little porous, sure. But those that were there were glad about it. One guy next to me said he had come from seeing Hova and “it was awful.” The crowd went so far back, he said, that the upside was being able to hear how awesome The XX was and make a move.
The band had its work cut out for it. How to translate moody, atmospheric electro-rock into a festival headline draw? How to make this thoroughly Euro-cool group universal enough in its appeal to keep the casual festgoer in the park as the night grew old? Romy Madley Croft’s blunt bob and Sim’s black turtleneck can be a little Sprockets-from-“SNL,” after all.
Luckily, The XX’s headlining set brought a lot of flashing lights and hit straight for the heart. It was the anti-turn-up, where a mellow romance like “Say Something Loving” is the closest to a stadium singalong. Plenty of folks danced with their eyes closed, trance-like. If that’s your ACL bag, you wouldn’t get that vibe from “99 Problems.”
This was truly a safe space for the wayward sad kids, electro fans and romantics: “I mean it when I say we have so much love for your city,” Croft said at one point.
After the laconic groove of “VCR,” Sim asked for the lights to come up. “There is no doubt we are living in scary, scary times,” he said. He thanked the crowd for not being intimidated by this week’s massacre at a Las Vegas music festival and still coming out.
“Make a promise to enjoy yourself,” he said. “You deserve it.”
So, with their dancing orders, the audience turned “On Hold” into a nice little dance party, as a spectrum of lights strobed from the stage. Those who were there seemed to really want to be there — the kind of damn good vibe that ovations are made of.
“We appreciate each and every single one of you for being here,” Croft said after the song. “We see you, and we love you.”
So, no, maybe The XX never stood a fighting chance against Jay-Z when it came to crowd size. But who cares about that? The band tied their set up with “Angels” and took a bow. The crowd retreated into the night to the sounds of “Big Pimpin'” off in the distance, being as in love with The XX as they were.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified bassist Oliver Sim as Jamie XX.