I should be doing something more important than drooling over this band, but…
Ah, the Naked and Famous – five kids with cute accents from New Zealand playing 80s influenced, edgy yet danceable synth-pop. The concept alone is enough to grab my attention, but their ace-in-the-hole, ultimately winning me over as an embarrassingly gushing fan, is primary vocalist, lyricist, and one of four keyboard players, Alisa Xayalith. On the last leg of the tour supporting their debut album, I finally caught my favorite brainy Asian chick and her band mates who managed to sell out the spacious Terminal 5 venue in Hell’s Kitchen last Wednesday night. I obviously love the Naked and Famous, and the electrified crowd heightened the chill atmosphere, so I was fully prepared to enjoy the concert – and did immensely. The show basically consisted of the band performing its debut, Passive Me, Aggressive You, in its entirety and whatever else it could scrape together to complete a nearly two-hour set. Everybody in the house was familiar with the dance-friendly singles from the release (“Young Blood,” “Punching in a Dream,” “Girls Like You,” and “All of This”), which when played incited a scene akin to an all-night German rave on ecstasy. The moments when the band turned to their less accessible music and relatively unknown cuts to fill out the set, however, raised the overall performance from better than average to pleasantly exceeding my expectations.
In addition to hearing young, radio-friendly pop bands perform their singles live, I enjoy seeing how they manage their lesser known cuts, B-sides, and songs yet to progress through the studio recording process. Having more than ninety minutes to fill up and only a fifty minute album in its holster, Xayalith and her crew had to rely on the less popular tunes from their debut and dip into the cache of relatively and completely unknown material. For me, what tipped the scales in making this a tremendous show was what they accomplished live with the less interesting moments from Passive Me, Aggressive You. I like this album a lot, but there are instances where some ostensibly good ideas are left incomplete. The cut “No Way,” for example becomes entangled in an overly repetitive chorus, and the absurdly titled “Wolf in Geek’s Clothing,” although the hardest rocker Naked and Famous has recorded, sounds like an underdeveloped outtake by The Joy Formidable.
These tunes and a couple of other “lesser-knowns” appeared about mid-way into the show when the band risked losing the attention of the audience. It was at this point – while performing the three album cuts “No Way,” “Jilted Lovers,” and “Wolf in Geek’s Clothing” – when the Naked and Famous transformed itself from a distractingly cute 80s flashback to a bona fide rock band. All of these tunes were performed with energy and creativity (the bridge after the repetition in “No Way” reimagined the tune from an intriguing interlude to full blown concept), but the highlight of the show was the performance of “Wolf in Geek’s Clothing.” This interpretation of my least favorite song on the album aired out the number several minutes past its three minute mark to fill the dead spaces of its tired rock riff with a wall of sound that literally blew the roof off the house.
So what if the encore number, the hit “Young Blood,” was reduced to a cheesy sing-a-long, and the band members’ giddiness at selling out one of the top venues in NYC was bit too sentimental (at one point Xayalith referred to the evening as “surreal,” and guitarist Aaron Short remarked that just two years ago they were writing these songs in their bedrooms in New Zealand). Watching a great young band transform itself from a poppy singles machine to artists crafting interesting ideas into great rock songs for a few moments on stage produced a highly entertaining evening of live music.