I’m going to say it right out of the gate — Clan of Xymox deserve to be a much bigger act than they are.
As seen at DC’s Union Stage recently, frontman Ronny Moorings and company walk a straight line through buoyant synthpop — a bit more dark and distracted than their contemporaries in New Order and a bit less complicated than The Cure.
With a sophistication that actually hinges on simplicity, Xymox’s music walks beside us like a consoling companion, generally neither seeking to comfort or distress but rather to explore through a very keen interest in dance music.
To the contemporary listener, the lyrical transparency and focus on dance beats may make Xymox seem like a throwback. But there is an earnestness and innocence to the emotional distance found in the Clan of Xymox songs, and that makes them thoroughly accessible and enjoyable.
On Nov. 21, Clan of Xymox opened the show with “Stranger” from their debut self-titled album, the primary record with which casual listeners still associate them to this day. The crowded room at Union Stage gathered around the band attentively, and Ronny addressed the audience demurely but directly. Ronny has been the only consistent member of Clan of Xymox since its founding, and he looks every inch the part of a video warrior. Every snapshot of him singing seemed as if it were lifted from a video music performance where he stood moodily in a cabaret lit just so.
Xymox closed their main set with another selection from that debut album — “A Day,” an ode to a sullen search for human connection. The music, pounding and driven, belied the lyrical intent a bit but the overall effect was magnificent. We were locked in a race with ourselves, and Xymox was our guide along the obstacle course.
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Although the first Xymox album carries an outsized (if warranted) reputation to this day, Ronny and Clan of Xymox have continued to record other good music consistently since 1985, tallying perhaps 16 albums up until 2017’s Days of Black. Ostensibly, the band remain on the current Days of Black Tour through 2020, but their visit to DC was the first in many moons, so the continued touring schedule has taken them to places they have not been in some time.
This provided admirers with their first opportunity to hear favorites like “Emily” from In Love We Trust (2009) and “Louise” from Medusa (1986) in the middle of the 14-song set in addition to new songs from Days of Black. (“There are a lot of songs named for women,” Ronny mused in the midst of them.)
The show included three numbers for Days of Black, and what great numbers they are. The unrequited love of “Your Kiss” arrived early in the set, followed by “Leave Me Be,” a treatise on going your own way, and “Loneliness,” another song of lost love, late in the show.
As fulfilled as the nearly capacity crowd at Union Stage was by the Xymox formula of darkly romantic longing, a just world would have seen Ronny and his three bandmates selling out a venue as large as the 9:30 Club, which he recalled fondly from the stage at one point (although I suspect he was referring to the old club). Xymox meanwhile deliver a spirited show, full of light and sound, seemingly only absorbing the energy from the room and amplifying it. Still, the show was more than deserving of a bigger audience!
Well, Clan of Xymox is not slowing down, and the band continue their trek around the world, although they have departed the United States for now.
Here are some pictures of Clan of Xymox performing at Union Stage on Nov. 21, 2019. All photos courtesy of Mickey McCarter.