After walking down Cowley Road on a beautiful May evening, it was somewhat disconcerting to find myself alone in the dark, steamy cavern of the O2 academy, adjusting to the dim light and hot, buzzing crowd. Having left town late, I was also disappointed to only catch the last two songs of support act Alpines, an atmospheric electro outfit fronted by a statuesque, dark-haired beauty. Ambient yet ambitious, the soaring vocals, synths and trippy, dubstep-influenced beats reminded me of Kate Bush and Clare Maguire.
But I was here for the main event, and soon found friends to share in the palpable excitement before The Naked And Famous took to the stage. “Do you think there’ll be a mosh pit?”, one asked me. I thought for a moment – was synth-filled, anthemic indie really conducive to push and shove? “Surely not…but I suppose you can mosh to just about anything.”
And it turns out I was right. That you can mosh to just about anything. From the moment TNAF took to the stage, the crowd was swaying dangerously, leading to an explosion of energy as soon as the slow build-up reach its grinding, guitar-filled climax. Even technical problems after their first song, during which guitarist Thom Powers swore profusely and admitted he needed to learn some jokes for the stage, failed to dent the crowd’s enthusiasm.
The energy was maintained by both crowd and band for the whole set – I was pleasantly surprised by how much drive TNAF injected into their live show, though it did mean that some of the more delicate electronic sounds from their recordings were lost in the cacophony. This didn’t however detract much from what was a thoroughly enjoyable set, where the chemistry between Powers and frontwoman Alisa Xayalith was clear in both the vocal harmonies and their onstage interaction. And damn she made me wish I was Asian.
The show came alive the most when TNAF pulled out their sing-along anthems – the devastatingly catchy synth riffs of ‘Punching in a Dream’ and the driving beats and sweet vocals of ‘All of This’ and ‘Girls Like You’. When the band came back for their encore many in the crowd were chanting for ‘Young Blood’. The set-closer made for a memorable moment as everyone leapt around one last time, though a shade less bass would have helped the anthemic riffs to shine even more.
As some of the song names suggest, there is a healthy dose of angst and emotion handed out in TNAF’s synthesised, symphonic style. However, I am personally not one to complain, especially as for me it comes laced with nostalgia – I discovered TNAF last September when travelling in New Zealand.
TNAF are definitely destined for bigger things if they keep writing tunes as good as the stand-out songs which carried the night. Having moved to London, and with a slew of festival dates to keep them busy all summer, the BBC Sound of 2011-nominated Kiwi five-piece are ones to watch. While most will think of the parody folk duo Flight of the Conchords when they think of music from New Zealand, this band make music that is crying out to be taken seriously. And they pack a hefty live punch to go with it.
Photography by Tomasz Ras