Nao’s second album Saturn is seriously fucking good. A glossy record that fuses jazz, pop and R&B, it’s a mesmerising thirteen track ride of gorgeous, intricately crafted songs. So as soon as I saw she was playing the O2 Bristol, my ticket was secured.
The anticipation in the crowd was discernible and our curiosity peaked when staff brought out several boxes and stood in the middle of the crowd. Ten minutes later our questions were answered, Nao herself shimmied through the crowd and jumped up onto the boxes, opening the gig like she opens the album, with ‘Another Lifetime’.
This track is most similar in its sound to her debut album. A bass-heavy and vibrant song, its lyrics reference loneliness and inadequacy in the most honest way and she was up close and personal with the crowd for it. When she later played ‘Make It Out Alive’, Nao sat on the edge of the stage, practically in the audience – both of these songs chart the immediate aftermath of a break up and Nao doesn’t shy away from showing vulnerability both lyrically and on stage. Her drive to connect with her audience was exceptional.
Nao’s energy was indescribable. Nothing about her performance was half arsed. A lot of work had gone into this tour and it paid off, a wind machine, countless balloons, pretty fans and glittering fabrics featured alongside exhausting choreography. Easily an entertainer of the same ilk as Beyonce.
With such an emphasis on performance, it was understandable that occasionally her vocals suffered slightly, at points Nao was breathless and slower than on record. Still, her voice is so unique and consistently lush with an undeniably strong range, that it was easy to forgive this. And her enthusiasm was faultless.
Citing Erykah Badu as an influence, she also paid tribute to D’angelo, performing a sweeter jazzy cover of ‘Brown Sugar’. On ‘Orbit’ Nao showed off, seamlessly transitioning from falsetto melodies to husky rapping, alongside impressive runs. Then we were blessed with ‘Love Supreme’, whose heavy beats perfectly encapsulated Nao’s self-described wonky funk. By the end everyone was on a high, witnessing the unadulterated joy of someone doing something they absolutely adore and being a part of it.
The crowd was thunderous after Nao left the stage, stomping incessantly for an encore. Coyly waltzing back on, she delved straight into ‘Drive and Disconnect’, managing to hit all the notes while gyrating to the Afrobeats influenced track. She closed with ‘Bad Blood’, which had the audience singing louder than the band. The atmosphere was euphoric when the lights came back on and the room stayed full as the O2’s playlist came on. No one wanted to leave; everyone was still boogie-ing to Ms Lauryn Hill when we dipped, over half an hour after the gig finished.
Her dedication to her craft is admirable, the introspective album Saturn titled aptly in reference to ‘the Saturn return’ which is when the planet returns to the same point it was at your birth, as all astrology lovers know. It occurs in your late 20s and is a time for reflection, when most people’s lives are at their most turbulent and confusing. Nao takes her listeners on an intimate, feel-good ride through atmospheric vocal distortion and glistening instrumentals and this translated just as cohesively on her live tour.
Nao’s control over her melodic narrative is impressive, to say the least. Her artistic growth is extraordinary and she explores the highs and lows of heartbreak and regeneration with ease, sincerity and precision.
Originally published in Inter:mission magazine