For a band who haven’t played in London for a few years, The Naked and Famous have a staunchly devoted fanbase. Whether it’s fond nostalgia for their vivacious debut ‘Passive Me, Aggressive You’ that was bursting airwaves in 2010, or a new swathe of fans snared by the more dance-pop oriented ‘Simple Forms’, the O2 Forum was a busy place when the Los Angeles-based New Zealanders played the last night of their tour, taking to the stage in a thick waft of stage smoke as misty as, well, the memories of 2010 amongst the crowds older echelons.
Emerging from the fog like unquiet spirits, The Naked And Famous began with a double helping of energetic ‘Simple Forms’ tracks; ‘The Water Beneath You’ and ‘Higher’. Despite their more pop-packaged stylings, these newer tracks became their own heavier evolutions in the live setting. Guitarist Thom Powers wasn’t afraid to stick a few extra notches on his distortion dial to give the set an arena rock vibe, whilst drummer Jesse Wood’s use of a drumkit over sample pads gave the tracks a boisterous punch. Alisa Xayalith’s powerhouse vocals were dominant, even stronger live than in the studio. TNAF’s choruses lend themselves to being drunkenly belted out at throat-tearing volume, and that served the band well throughout their set with a very vocal, lyrically clued-up crowd, but Xayalith never failed to soar above them all like a shaman leading a war-cry.
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It wasn’t long before TNAF swung into the back-catalogue, earning howls of approval from the veterans for ‘All Of This’, and every clothing brand advertiser’s favourite sample, ‘Punching In A Dream’. As you’d expect from a band with their origins in shoegaze, TNAF were not exactly firecrackers in the performance-art department, staying mostly enigmatic behind their wall of morphing smoke. But perhaps they didn’t need to be. The lighting display was like a power overload at a Christmas lights factory, flooding the band in flashing crimsons and ultramarines, blasting pink on every snare hit, and dropping down to silhouettes for the pulsating synth ballad ‘Rolling Waves’. And besides, the crowd didn’t need much encouragement. Every sing-along and clap-along that ran through the venue, and there were many, the crowd started themselves.
Things did wear thin towards the set’s middle-point. Newer track ‘My Energy’, ironically, saw the energy levels sag for a time, the softer, poppier sound falling a little flat after the raw anthemic vigour of their earlier material. But TNAF brought it back with a fury for 2013’s ‘Hearts Like Ours’, a pounding dual-vocal flag-waver delivered with enough youthful desperation for an 80s John Hughes romance flick. Things stayed at ceiling level for the home strait, with ‘Laid Low’ seeing Thom Powers straddling both guitar and synth duties in an enviable display of quick-changes, and ‘Girls Like You’ featuring Powers and Xayalith’s vocals blending together at their very best. The band even broke from their usually-reserved stage manner by the end, with Powers soloing casually from the drum riser and Xayalith throwing a few ‘come on!’s in the crowd’s direction. Naturally they finished on the hysterically-received ‘Young Blood’, the most bombastic of choruses from a band who made their name writing bombastic choruses.
Returning for an encore, TNAF gave the audience the choice of an acoustic or dancey finale. After the latter won by several decibels, the band wrapped up their tour with the pop-centric, thoroughly well-received ‘Last Forever’, and the ballad with strains of late-era Paramore, ‘Rotten’ to close everything off in lighter-waving style.
Those who associate TNAF mostly with the synth-rock indie days of ‘Passive Me, Aggressive You’ might be surprised by their newer club-friendly material and their sect of younger fans. But there’s no denying that the crowd adored what they were hearing. With virtually no stagecraft or interaction TNAF kept the crowd on the hook for the majority of the set, and the crowd sung along with the new material just as passionately as the old.
The Naked and Famous may have changed, but they’re still good at what they do, and they’re still beloved for it.