Review: The Naked and Famous dazzle St. Petersburg's State Theatre with synths, lights and grooves
Had you dropped a pair of New Zealanders on the streets of downtown St. Pete Wednesday night, their minds might have been blown to see two Kiwi bands on the marquee of the State Theatre: Katchafire and The Naked and Famous.
The latter group, in particular, would be quite the hot ticket in their native Auckland, where they have become one of the brightest pop talents to emerge from New Zealand in recent years, thanks to an award-winning debut album (Passive Me, Aggressive You) and a hugely catchy indie-pop single (Young Blood) that keeps them drawing comparisons to MGMT and Passion Pit.
The Naked and Famous picked a busy week to make their Tampa Bay debut, what with concerts around town by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Lips, SBTRKT and, yes, their countrymen in Katchafire to contend with. But those fans who turned out were treated to an highly danceable set and dazzling light show worthy of a trip around the globe.
As you’d expect, Passive Me, Aggressive You got heavy play Wednesday night, with the group performing all 13 tracks from the album. Right out of the gate, All Of This and Punching In A Dream were a potent one-two punch.
But it was the third and fourth songs, the energetic Spank and the groovy The Sun, that revealed the evening was about more than just music. As co-lead singers Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers traded breathy vocals – think Stars covering Radiohead – the stage seemed to explode with blipping LEDs and spinning spotlights. It was a radioactive, ravelive spectacle, with a shower of blues, greens, purples and golds caressing Xayalith’s swirling silhouette. On the ‘80s-movielike Eyes, a blinding beam aimed at the State’s overhead disco ball bathed the venue in sparkles.
But the night was about more than visual excess. And while poppy synths and keyboards dominated the night – everyone but the drummer had at least one keyboard at their station – The Naked and Famous displayed solid range and muscle, from the brooding, shoegazey ballad No Way to the Jesus and Mary Chain-style gothic pop of Jilted Lovers. And then, as the LED backdrop shot forth blinking prisms of light, they exploded from the sparse, lovely The Ends to the mighty roar of A Wolf in Geek’s Clothing.
The best stuff, obviously, was saved for the encore – the unkillable Young Blood, of course, but also an older track, the brilliantly fuzzy New Wave punk track Dadada, from their No Light EP.
It may be a while before Neil Finn or Flight of the Conchords return to this area. If The Naked and Famous end up being our last look at the New Zealand music scene for a while, it was a brilliant way to go out.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*