Electronic, pop, and R&B artist Neo Jessica Joshua, better known as Nao, recently performed her self-described “wonky funk” for a sold-out audience at The Fillmore Silver Spring. The British singer-songwriter, who used celestial metaphors on her latest album Saturn (2018), delivered an out of this world performance.
Anticipation grew the night of Feb. 5, as fans stared at the platform where Nao’s bandmates waited at the ready. Then, as if out of thin air, she appeared in the center of the venue illuminated by a lunar-like beam of light from an above fixture. Nao stood on a pedestal encircled by her adoring fans as she began the show with an a cappella verse from “Another Lifetime,” off the Saturn album. After her stirring performance of the breakup ballad, Nao made her way to the stage where she went into the high-energy “Fool to Love.”
The songstress with a unique high vocal pitch danced across the platform as she sang about letting go of the insecurities that kept her in a bad relationship. “Fool to Love” was the second single off her critically acclaimed 2016 debut album, For All We Know.
The East Londoner has stated during interviews that she was painfully shy as a child but on this night, she brimmed with confidence and self-assurance. Bedecked in a sparkling bikini top and genie pants, she endeared herself to the audience through her engaging stage presence. Throughout her performance, she would whirl, kick, and wind her waist to the music’s rhythm.
The visuals for the night kept to the theme of Nao’s Saturn album cover. A non-sci-fi representation of planets in the form of balloons. The spheres were omnipresent during the show. Globular objects decorated the back of the stage and a bouquet of white balloons hovered above the platform. It appeared that Nao would float away when she grabbed the balloons during her performance of the upbeat “If You Ever.” She handed the bouquet to a stagehand who presented the balloons to fans in the front row.
During the show, Nao explained why she chose to name her latest album Saturn. The sixth planet from the sun takes 29 years to make its orbit around the fireball. Nayo, now 31 years old, said that life changed when she hit her late 20s. The astrological rite of passage, also known as a Saturn return, can be a tough and chaotic transitionary period.
Stream Saturn by Nao on Spotify:
Nao sat at the edge of the stage as she sang “Make It Out Alive.” The song epitomizes the disillusion that a Saturn return brings. “How do we make it out alive?” she passionately sang.
On the title track of Saturn, Nao sang about a love that returns after a hiatus. “You return like Saturn to me,” she sang on the refrain. The song features fellow British musician Kwabs. He has a velvety voice that recalls Luther Vandross. Kwabs wasn’t present on that night, but the audience did a double take when Nao’s voice dropped a few octaves to deliver one of his verses. The fans erupted into cheers at the display of vocal range. Nao’s pair of talented guitarists ended the song with an exchange of extended guitar riffs.
The affable performer with a smile as luminous as the brightest star performed “Yellow of the Sun.” The ’90s baby twirled joyously as she sang the song inspired by the 1991 film “Thelma and Louise.”
Nao gives a shout-out to D’Angelo in her ballad “Orbit.” “You can give me the voodoo/Like D’Angelo said, ‘How does it, how does it feel?’” she sang. She goes one step further on “Inhale Exhale,” where she pays homage to the neo-soul godfather with her rendition of the ‘95 R&B classic “Brown Sugar.”
Nao kept the crowd rocking from the beginning of her performance to the conclusion. Her Chaka Khan-like curls flew up-and-down to the beat as she flung her body to the bass of her hit song “Bad Blood.” The feel-good electronic R&B song capped an energetic performance.
If this show is to foretell what lays ahead for Nao, it’s safe to say that she’s poised to continue her meteoric rise to stardom.
Other highlights from the night included Nao’s performances of…
- “Complicated,” Mura Masa & Nao (2018)
- “If I was your Girlfriend,” For All We Know (2016)
- “Gabriel,” Saturn (2018) “Firefly,” appears on Mura Masa’s Someday Somewhere EP
- “Adore You,” For All We Know (2016)
Here are some photos of Nao performing at The Fillmore Silver Spring on Feb. 5, 2019. All photos copyright and courtesy of Will Colbert.