Music Review: Xylos at the Red Palace

Lead singer Monika Heidemann, left, bassist Jordan Brooks and keyboardist Nikki Lancy on stage at the Red Palace.
Lead singer Monika Heidemann, left, bassist Jordan Brooks and keyboardist Nikki Lancy on stage at the Red Palace. (For The Washington Post)
By Chris Klimek
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, March 7, 2011; 12:11 AM

The beguiling harmonies are still there, and the seductively varied instrumentation remains intact, but Xylos wants to be utterly, absolutely, unequivocally clear on one point: There is no accordion in this band. Not anymore. Not onstage, anyway.

The Brooklyn five-piece group has been playing together since October 2008, and its full-length debut doesn't drop until next month, but already they've got a nice mythology going: major personnel changes and a complete album in the vault that they don't intend to release.

That other record, not their imminent self-titled release, got shelved because, founding songwriter/guitarist Eric Zeiler has said, it's unrepresentative of the band's icier, new-wavier current incarnation, which played a confident-if-businesslike 40-minute set at the Red Palace Saturday night as opener for the Parlotones. What was once a sun-burnished, folksy outfit with shared vocals and, yep, an accordion has hardened into a synthesizer-heavy ensemble that wants to party like it's 1982.

Or maybe study like it's 1982. The gig felt more like an open rehearsal than a celebration, not because of any tentativeness in the music, but because 80 percent of the band looked to be concentrating awfully hard. (To be fair, it was only the second date of the tour.)

One lineup change the gig more than validated was the elevation of Monika Heidemann, who joined Xylos as the bass player, to full-time lead singer. She has an actor's gift of being able to command our attention while appearing only half-present in the room; especially handy when the room is still filling up and some patrons are more interested in their conversations than the sometimes delicate music on offer.

Though Heidemann mostly left the task of introducing the group to the Lite-Brite set that displayed Xylos's arcade-game logo, her vocals were supple and sinewy, fusing wonderfully with those of keyboardist-singer Nikki Lancy. If they keep finding inventive ways to use those harmonies, I'll totally ballpoint that logo on my spiral notebook.

Klimek is a freelance writer.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company