ACL Fest: 3 reasons NAO is your new favorite singer

Austin, TX - British singer-songwriter Nao  performs during day two of ACL Music Festival at Zilker Park on October 1, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Austin, TX – British singer-songwriter Nao performs during day two of ACL Music Festival at Zilker Park on October 1, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

 

From megastars like Miguel and Frank Ocean to up-and-comers such as ACL Fest acts Gallant and Jack Garratt, if you’ve got a taste for alt-R&B your cup currently runneth over. Add to those respectable ranks NAO (pronounced “Nay-Oh”).

The soulful British singer-songwriter is a future-facing R&B throwback. A purveyor of self-labeled “wonky funk,” NAO proved a crowd favorite playing the tent stage at ACL Fest Saturday afternoon. While the space may have been smaller, NAO’s presence and energy was massive. Her set marked the most of a daytime crowd (percentage-wise) I’ve seen actually dancing at ACL this year. 

“This is my first time in Texas, and I’m loving the vibe,” she said in response to the enthusiastic audience.

Her festival spot (weekend one only, sadly) marked the last stop on her North American tour. While you may have missed NAO this time, I suspect you’ll have a hard time missing her next go-round. Here are three reasons NAO just may be your new favorite act.

1. You love the ’90s. NAO wouldn’t feel out of place on a mixtape with TLC, Aaliyah or Janet Jackson, whose futuristic take on R&B is perhaps most in line with NAO’s. NAO crafts a funky love letter to the genre and pulls it off like the golden era of soulful female-fronted ’90s pop acts never ended.

2. She sounds like the future. Take one of her set stand out tracks “So Good.” With its Prince-meets-Timbaland production courtesy of her frequent collaborator the enigmatic A. K. Paul, it sounds both slick and alien but familiar and classic. (NAO’s performance of the song with her live backing band Saturday may be the closest thing we ever get hearing an A. K. Paul song live.) Her pairing of classic soul with electronic production should feel welcome to fans of another ACL Fest Saturday act, AlunaGeorge.

3. She’s the total package. NAO can write and sing—this is obvious from her recently released full-length debut, For All We Know. But Saturday afternoon she proved she’s the total package. Whipping around a head of cascading curls while showcasing tight, synchronized dance steps barefoot in colorful harem pants, NAO commanded the stage. (Confession: This fashion ignoramus may have had to Google “genie pants” to get the correct name for “harem pants.”)

Setlist

  1. “Happy”
  2. “Inhale Exhale”
  3. “Adore You”
  4. “In the Morning”
  5. “So Good”
  6. “Girlfriend”
  7. “Apple Cherry”
  8. “Fool to Love”
  9. “Zillionaire”
  10. “Firefly”
  11. “Bad Blood”

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