featuring Xavier Omar
February 1, 2019 @ Royale
Singing out from the stage, proud and with an emboldened voice, NAO truly looked like somebody who had been reborn.
Walking into the Royale, I noticed that the front of the stage was already bustling and full of people enthusiastically watching the opening act of the night, Xavier Omar. Xavier was animated in his approach to singing, belting notes and riffing easily with a voice that sounded smooth and accustomed to performing. From my spot on the balcony, I saw that the audience was swaying and dancing along with Xavier when he started to rhythmically move his body on stage. The night was already in full swing, and NAO, the headlining performer of the night, hadn’t even taken the stage.
Once Xavier’s set ended, the crowd’s excitement heightened drastically. When the lights finally went off, signaling that NAO was about to perform, loud screams pierced the air. A group of attendees to my right were particularly overjoyed – their mouths were open with pure adoration and they jumped up and down in ecstasy as NAO surprised the crowd by starting her set from within the audience. Singing the song “Another Lifetime,” I saw that most people around her were smiling wide, singing and swinging along. NAO spread her hand out to the crowd and acknowledged everyone in the small, intimate venue.
“Would you like to go to another planet with me today?” NAO asked an uproarious crowd as she made her way to the front of the stage and passed white balloons out to audience members. Her latest record, titled Saturn, is an ode to interplanetary rebirth and acceptance, and the night continued on that theme. The talented R&B songstress looked ethereal in a shimmering emerald jumpsuit, cheekily smiling and occasionally busting some moves during smooth, sensual tracks like “Adore You” and “Gabriel”. I felt chills during a phenomenal performance of “Orbit” as NAO emotionally sang out to the cosmos of a failed relationship with a powerful voice that resonated deeply within me.
Other highlights of the night included a mash-up of “Inhale Exhale,” off of NAO’s 2016 full-length For All We Know, and the inspiration for it, D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar”. It was fun to watch NAO sneakily transition from one song to the other, and she seemed happy to show off her knowledge of legendary neo-soul singers. The whole show felt like a personal conversation between NAO and the audience. At one point, she got worked up while talking about the meaning of her newest album and how it represents the astrological Saturn Return, 29 year period when Saturn makes a complete orbit around the Sun. NAO related this idea to her own cosmic transition from adolescence into adulthood, which was full of hard lessons and heartbreak. She seemed genuinely happy to see so many cheering fans who had still stuck with her after so many years.
Near the end of the set, she performed “Girlfriend,” another memorable hit off her previous record. Singing out from the stage, proud and with an emboldened voice, NAO truly looked like somebody who had been reborn.