The xx and Sampha dazzle the Mann Center’s Skyline Stage

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The xx | photo by Doug Interrante for WXPN

Summer musical performances in West Fairmount Park is always a holistic experience – the skyline, landscape, stars, and grooves.  That rang true Wednesday as the Skyline Stage at the Mann kicked off their summer season.  Introduced in the summer of 2012, the Skyline Stage gives the Mann an opportunity to expand its concert offerings with a more intimate experience.  An experience necessary for the stellar bill of Sampha and The xx.

Sampha opened the show just as the sun started to sink in the sky behind backlit trees.  Leading with “Timmy’s Prayer,” a ballad co-written by Kanye West which fully displays how Sampha’s voice hits you on a more spiritual level.  His vocal delivery from start to finish was strong and emotive.  His falsetto, seemingly more delicate than most, rarely came close to its breaking point no matter how high he pushed it.

Despite not releasing his solo full-length, Process, until February of 2017, Sampha has enjoyed mainstream recognition primarily as a featured artist.  It’s been a steep ascent since his early days collaborating with SBTRKT, but it’s clear to see why he’s so sought after.  In 2016, he seemed to thrust out of a relatively quiet period, appearing on the albums of Kanye, Drake, Frank Ocean and Solange.

Sampha | photo by Doug Interrante for WXPN

After Sampha’s soulful forty-five-minute set, the anticipation was high for UK electro-rockers The xx to step on stage.  While attendees sported outrageous outfits perfect for Made in America, the band kept it simple with monochromatic ensembles. The stage shimmered thanks to rectangular prisms and flashing strobe lights.  The xx started off the night with their latest single “Say Something Loving” off their third album I See You.

On I See You, The xx discovers new creative territory when compared to that already represented in their previous albums.  Specifically, Jamie xx’s beats and rhythms are more developed substrates akin to those found on his solo outing In Colour.  Their positive influence here is noticeable and allows for more of a dance club atmosphere.  Romy Croft, however, is responsible for the strongest noticeable gain.  She explores a much greater vocal range across the album.  Her development in this respect greatly broadens the spectrum of their work, and especially when combined with higher BPMs, yields a new vector for the creation of a complementary sound that well-balanced their performance.

For me, Romy and Oliver’s strong chemistry defines their stage presence.  The two are completely in-sync when they jam out under the fluorescent lights, each complementing the other.  They concluded the show with more displays of sincerity, thanking everyone who came, confessing that they truly love their supportive fans.  Jamie xx set the mood for the encore by performing “Loud Places” with Romy on vocals.  What followed was quite special with the songs “On Hold,” “Intro,” and the hauntingly beautiful “Angels,” leaving the crowd singing “love, love, love” until the very end.



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