The Naked and Famous, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Friday 27 May 2011
Hyperbolically touted as a must-see for this year's summer festivals, New Zealand's newest, hottest, most exciting export The Naked and Famous are predictably not naked as they take to the Empire's stage in front of a hyper Friday-night crowd.
The band are, however, beginning to live up to the latter part of their name (taken from a Tricky song). Forget radio listeners – frequenters of "edgy" high-street stores are equally likely to be well-acquainted with the accessible jingle-janglings of this electro quintet, whose singles from their debut album, Passive Me, Aggressive You, have become the alternative muzak du jour in preppy-cool stores across the UK. It's because, on record, the Naked and Famous offer just enough originality to be noteworthy, but sufficient simplicity and colourlessness to be completely unobtrusive. And tonight, that's exactly what their live set is like, too.
Wandering on to the stage with little ceremony, the initial bars of the opener "The Ends" are barely noticed by the loudly chatting gig-goers, save for a contingency of barrier-huggers. Catchy single "Punching in a Dream" pays significant homage to MGMT's renowned synth-riches. Nevertheless, it remains an early plus-point that showcases the musical chemistry between vocalist Alisa Xayalith and lead guitarist Thom Powers, which has been known to be xx-esque enough to explain the band's presence on the BBC's Sound of 2011 shortlist.
The band's technical ability is not in question, but the mainly inanimate performance does little for the album's less compelling tracks. "Spank" and "The Sun" manage to blend into a fairly dull uniform sound. The opening beats of album starter "All of This" (that bear an uncanny similarity to A-Ha's "Take on Me") divert the crowd from their conversations to engage in some sprinkles of movement; but it doesn't last.
The band end on their most ear-catching single, "Young Blood", which became the first debut single by a Kiwi band to get to the top spot in New Zealand's charts for 16 years last year. It's a charming, synth-led floor-filler, and the harmonies between Xayalith and Powers glow. Finally, a more impassioned performance reinforces those glimpses of originality which give The Naked and Famous their pop potential. But for this performance, those sparks are just too little and too late to light up the embers.
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