While there was much dispute between fans on whether the correct pronunciation is “now” or “nay-o”, concert goers leaving Brighton Music Hall unanimously agreed that NAO put on one heck of a show. Coming all the way from England, the self-proclaimed “wonky funk” diva showed no signs of jet lag as she radiated her warmth across the stage for the second stop of her American tour. NAO faithfully delivered her signature blend of electric funk, R&B, and soul, brought to life by her syrupy yet sensual voice. It was a lush sound evoking the peak of the MTV era, and the perfect recipe to get the crowd bouncing along all night long.
First to take the stage was contemporary R&B singer/songwriter Antoine, who had responded to a desperate last minute phone call asking for an opener. Despite wearing a tacky sleeveless leopard-print shirt and lacking any live instrumentation, Antoine was still able to dazzle the crowd with his impressive vocal runs sung in a strikingly androgynous falsetto. The first song of the night was a cover of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” by Prince, a tribute to the late icon who had clearly been a great influence on Antoine’s career. Another highlight of the set was “Do It Like I Do”, a heartbroken ode to post-breakup sex which found Antoine breathing pure pain and desperation into the mic. Overall the set was confident yet humble, certainly enough to get the crowd warmed up for NAO herself.
After a brief intermission, the lights dimmed low and the band took the stage. Conspicuously missing was NAO herself. As the lights slowly turned on, there was an ominous humming that soon faded into a recording of the intro track on her latest LP For All We Know. Suddenly the drums kicked in as NAO danced onto the stage barefoot to perform her bouncy new track “Happy”. The crowd quickly surrendered to the wobbly bass and got lost in her lava-lamp ambiance. NAO kept the crowd swaying with the groovy “Inhale Exhale” followed by “Get to Know Ya”. Her fluttering voice then took a break from the danceable tracks that came before to give way to the mournful “In the Morning”. Sadness quickly turned to anger with the defiant track “Trophy”, which allowed for some audience participation at the chorus. NAO got so fired up with this one that she even picked up a drumstick and unleashed her rage on the cymbals. “Adore You” brought the emotional roller coaster full circle, with a melody so sweet you could almost hear the butterflies coming out of her stomach.
By this point in the night it had become clear how faithfully NAO could recreate the sumptuous sound of her recordings in front of a live audience. In fact, the only noticeable deviation from the original compositions in the entire set was a wobbly guitar solo in “Feels Like (Perfume)”, providing a much needed jam in a set that widely failed to provide any new material for listeners already familiar with NAO’s discography. Despite this deficit, NAO swept everybody away with her decadent sound and impossibly effervescent voice. Particularly crowd pleasing tracks included bangers like “Fool to Love”, “Girlfriend”, and “Bad Blood”, which prompted a deafening roar from the crowd. My personal favorite was “Blue Wine”, an ethereal slow-burner that surged and pulsed like the incoming tide on a cloudy day. Drums snapped and popped throughout the set, layered beneath robust rippling bass lines and acrobatic vocal runs drenched in honey. NAO’s music is distinct and fun, and could easily be filling venues much larger than Brighton Music Hall.