Nao and Xavier Omar at the Vogue Theatre, 1/12/19
London-based soul singer Nao opened her Saturn tour Saturday night at the Vogue Theatre, delivering some deeply personal lyrics about the pressures of finding her true path with her distinctive vocal tone.
After the lovable Xavier Omar warmed up the crowd with some subtle R&B melodies, a recording was played explaining the concept of Nao’s latest project.
Centered around the astrological concept of the “Saturn’s Return,” a time of complete maturation and drastic change in one’s life as the planet Saturn returns to its position at one’s birth, Nao’s latest set of tracks deals with the shifts in her life as she exits a long-term relationship and accumulates more fame.
As the recording ended, Nao somehow suddenly appeared in the middle of the crowd to the surprised screams of those around her, launching into the emotional “Another Lifetime.”
The lower-key track was a great showcase for her vocals early on in the show – Nao’s voice is so unique, an airy, ethereal tone that sounds almost as if she inhaled helium, that you’d believe that there are some effects on her studio recordings. She proved that not to be the case, sounding just like the original.
“I want to take you on a journey to another planet called Saturn,” she said, picking up a bundle of white balloons resembling the ones on her album artwork and handing them to the audience. Of course, most were accidentally released to the ceiling almost immediately.
Running through energetic tracks like “If You Ever” and “Make It Out Alive,” Nao’s physicality was impressive while still delivering some huge, soulful notes, often punching every syllable in the air physically like a rapper would and stealing the show with her dance moves.
Known for her innovative blend of her R&B vocals with a more electronic, synth-funk background, her genre-mashing sounded best on “Gabriel,” a track where she showed off her trademark jazzy scat solos while the room flashed red each time the synth chords blared behind her.
Nao took the time to explain where her sound came from, talking about how much she was inspired by neo-soul pioneer D’Angelo.
“I stole everything he did for my first album,” she said, leading into one of the coolest moments of the show as she pointed individually to each instrument on stage, slowly building up the complex funk instrumental of her track “Inhale/Exhale” before singing D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” on top instead.
The biggest cheer of the night came for emotional ballad “Orbit.” Nao’s greatest artistic evolution on her sophomore project is the addition of such vivid, personal lyrics to her already standout vocals, and we felt her heartbreak here. “He released me into orbit,” Nao sang, and fittingly, one more white balloon was released to the Vogue ceiling.
She closed the main set with “Firefly,” the second of two collaborations with rising young DJ Mura Masa, prompting the crowd to jump in unison as she returned to her more EDM-centric roots.
The best part of Nao’s set was how genuinely stunned she seemed by the loud audience response as she performed her first ever show at a venue this large, shouting “Wow!” as they cheered. If she keeps delivering shows like this, her star should continue to rise.