When I first heard “Punching in a Dream” by The Naked and the Famous, I thought, “Well, what a catchy dreampop song!” The ethereal voice of Alisa Xayalith over the layered electronics struck me as a sonically aggressive take on the genre but I was comfortable with that categorization nonetheless.
Coming to know the band quite a bit better recently, I’ve come to appreciate the bite in their music that lends their sound to the more rock-and-roll bent of post-punk. Yet I’m not entirely comfortable fully placing them there myself—and this is what makes the band an exciting listen. The Naked and the Famous are different. They play outside of boundaries, and they are surprisingly versatile while doing so. This was evident in two sold out shows at the 9:30 Club this past Sunday and Monday, where the crowd fully embraced the duality of the band, dancing and singing along with great enthusiasm.
The Naked and the Famous recently released a sophomore album, In Rolling Waves, which is not quite as memorable as their first, Passive Me, Aggressive You. Still, it provided plenty of fodder for the band to demonstrate their chops in Monday’s show. They opened with a new song, the appealing “A Stillness” from the new album. Soon, they played the first album’s “Girls Like You,” where guitarist Thom Powers took lead on vocals to my surprise, augmenting the band’s aforementioned versatility. (I had not previously heard the song!)
Another aspect of the performance defying easy categorization of the band’s music was the capability of four of the five members (all but the drummer) to take turns on individual keyboards set up next to each of them on stage. Guitarist Powers and bassist David Beadle, along with spritely Ms. Xayalith, could dance up to their keyboards and tap them at will, enhancing the range of dedicated keys from Aaron Short.
In the latter half of the show, The Naked and the Famous hit the big songs from their first album, triggering a great deal of dancing and sing-alongs in the audience. During “All of This” (which serves in the stead of a title track with the actual lyrics “passive me, aggressive you”), the crowd really got going. A set of guys in the front row on stage right even had a bit of a choreographed dance routine worked out to the song! The band also kicked its light show into high gear, encouraging the crowd frenzy and lighting up their spaceship-like stage set. The Naked and the Famous kept the temp upbeat by immediately playing “Punching in a Dream” next.
A few songs later, the band capped off the show with a crowd-pleasing encore, showcasing both of their full-length albums, of “To Move With Purpose,” a catchy new song, and “Young Blood,” destined perhaps to be the band’s most prominent anthem with its signature dreaminess and memorable lyrics, particularly the distinctive refrain of ” Yeah yeah yeah yeah.”
I know those aren’t particularly distinctive words, but it’s in the way that they sing it! And perhaps that is what is most memorable about The Naked and the Famous—the manner in which they play instead of what they actually play. It defies expectations, and in a good way. And that perhaps accounts for the band’s quickly accumulated popularity.