As the most successful act to come out of New Zealand in aeons, The Naked and Famous’ notable impact in Europe since the release of Passive Me, Aggressive You has been one propelled in equal measure by the mainstream and the blogosphere, helped along by winning an unprecedented seven categories at the New Zealand Music Awards back home. On tonight’s evidence, they’ve already built up a seriously passionate following. The young crowd that greets the five-piece ogle them through a shroud of perhaps the most intense stage fog we’ve ever come across, but while we’ll be spending the next couple of days clearing the chemicals from our throats, it’s the quality of the performance that will live longer in the memory.
While The Naked and Famous have made their name performing electro-pop-rock singles – tracks like ‘All Of This’ and ‘Young Blood’ – it’s the intensity of their set-gelling back catalogue that impresses tonight. Strutting amidst the smoke, Thom and Alisa share vocal duties, blasting out extended instrumental tracks and intense, bouncing asides whilst linking their established efforts with clever, atmospheric affects that build on a throbbing, tensile feel. Theirs is a set that’s surprisingly heavy on vibe: crammed with soaring crescendos and bass/drum fuelled rock-out moments, it’s tracks like ‘The Sun’ and ‘A Wolf In Geek’s Clothing’ that send things pummelling forward.
Frontwoman Alisa Xayalith is the undoubted star; a vocally sublime performer whose energy seems to be the driving force while the rest of the band stand nodding in her wake. In blasting out the bleepy goodness of an intense ‘Punching In A Dream’ – dropped early enough in the set to be regarded as a statement of confidence in the band’s depth of material – she seems every bit the stadium-ready front woman. Surprisingly timid when she steps forward to speak, she is still an animal of a contorting, yelping vocalist. Partner in crime Thom Powers has the voice, too, though in a subtler, mellowed way that can seem out of place next to his bandmate. The contrast is striking: a potent combo that shows occasional sparks of utter genius, but isn’t without its floundering moments. The encore performance of fellow Kiwi act The Mint Chicks’ ‘Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!’, for example, is a passion-killer, and an ill-advised misfire.
Still, to expect such relative newcomers to get everything right is probably unreasonable, and when ‘Girls Like You’ does roll around, we’re already just a little in love with a band that’s capable of a far more intoxicating, moody live display than their singles had led us to expect. If they can just hang on to that tendency to lean on a harsher side to their style, as opposed to their well-touted pop hits, The Naked And Famous could yet come to surpass even their impressive hype. James Hendicott