Jamie xx defies expectations at the Commodore Ballroom

Photo by Flavien Prioreau

It’s easy to forget, given all the talk of Jamie xx’s producing and DJing cred, but this guy was (and still is) a major player in the xx. Jamie’s role in the band hasn’t always been as upfront as his counterparts, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, but his influence on popular culture is still extensive. At this point then, it’d be a lie to suggest he isn’t upfront or centre stage: In Colour, Jamie xx’s debut LP released in May, has been a massive success, debuting at number three on the UK Albums Chart and selling nearly 20,000 copies in its first week. Subsequently, the quiet Londoner’s quest for the perfect beat continues with his electrifying live set. His concert last Thursday at Vancouver’s legendary Commodore Ballroom (one of two shows he performed there that evening) may not have been what fans expected, but it was still an education in electronic music and a high-energy celebration for the audience.

Worth noting is the fact that of all the different social networks, Jamie xx appears most prominent on Instagram, where he has amassed almost 60,000 followers. This makes sense. Seeing Jamie xx live is, by design, meant for Instagram, a social network predicated on bold, expressive colours and significant moments. He clearly knows who his audience is. The concert featured many of these higher calls-to-power, the cathartic moments right before the beat drops, and the tension is high. And in those brief flashes fans rightly pointed their smartphones upwards and captured them.

In Colour itself features plenty of magical, uplifting moments. But Jamie’s ability to underplay the exactness of his record in a live setting was brilliant to behold. The album is made up of 11 tracks that each feel distinct. As a result, it has created a framework for an enticing live set. When Jamie took the stage on Thursday, however, he didn’t lead off with the off-kilter percussion of “Gosh”, the album’s opening track, but with a subversive medley that included samples from the song as well as from “Loud Places”, and “Sleep Sound”.

Jamie’s music pays homage to 90s underground rave, deep house, and UK garage, music that, back then, often focused more on mood and ambiance than easy-to-digest singles. Today, however, Jamie xx’s music is largely played in pop settings, and arguably, In Colour is a pop album because those who dig him dig whatever festival-ready anthem might come their way. Live though, Jamie tended to steer away from this easy path. His set consisted of a series of heavy bass beats, which he occasionally connected with memorable textures or melodies from his record. As a result, the show was like the unfolding of a giant tapestry, one that weaved the catchy hooks of his album with previously unheard dance rhythms.

It was clear from the beginning of the show that Jamie xx wasn’t going to perform songs, so to speak. Instead, he delivered a seamless, unified, performance that was oftentimes experimental and improvisatory. The Millennials in the audience looked poised to hear the familiar, the tracks they knew, not the continuously transforming sound of Jamie’s inventive, R&B-tinged beat-making. The audience’s passionate but out-of-sync dancing, clapping, and chanting demonstrated their lack of familiarity with live electronica. But they also clearly loved what they were hearing and experiencing.

Perhaps the most enticing and challenging section of Thursday’s concert was his percussion-laden DJing following his playthrough of “The Rest is Noise”. Jamie started sampling fiery drums from old R&B records, followed by explosive free jazz bursts from a sample of blaring saxophone. The audience appeared taken aback, baffled, yet intrigued. This was something else, something they hadn’t heard before. This jazzy section was nowhere to be found on the album, and it challenged expectations by taking the audience outside of their comfort zones. This was possibly Jamie xx’s intention all along.

For all the OG ravers – the ones who were actually around for the 90s electronic scene – much of the concert would have seemed pretty tame. But for everyone else, it was a remarkable introduction to a whole new world. Electronic music and its variations can be worlds unto themselves, and the popular quality of Jamie xx’s music opens up this scene to a whole new group of people. Although the concert was not littered with accurately structured songs from the album, he did eventually finish the evening with an exact performance of the fan-favourite “Loud Places”. This song features Romy on vocals, and although she wasn’t present, her gorgeous pre-recorded vocal track was. It added a touch of gentleness and pop melody to a concert that mainly shied away from mimicking the anthemic quality of In Colour. Perhaps it’s not so easy to forget the band Jamie xx came from after all.