From the Pit to the Crowd: The Naked and Famous with Xylo and The Chain Gang of 1974

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During Thanksgiving week I was traveling to Georgia to visit my parents. With a couple of days up there I thought it would be fun to photograph a show. It’s not often I’m up that way and the Atlanta area is a constant stream of concerts. I did some digging through Ticketmaster to find something that I thought would be a fun show. I came across a band called The Naked and Famous. They sounded familiar and asked my editor if he knew them. He responded with “You will love that show.” So I asked him to put in a request and we were approved right away to photograph it. The only issue was it was on the day I would be traveling. I figured I could make the show if I left early enough that day.

So Tuesday, November 22nd, in the car at 7 AM and on the road to Georgia. I ended up making it to my parent’s house around 4 PM. It didn’t give me a lot of time so I started rushing to unload the car. After that it was a shower, shave, scarf down food, and back in the car. The venue was in an area called Buckhead. My parents kept warning me that crime was terrible in that area. They made it sound like I’d get mugged stepping out of my car. I took a number of backroads and then I-85 to finally arrive in the area.

Buckhead is a very well developed uptown area of Atlanta. It’s filled with restaurants, upscale hotels, and definitely does not look like the place my parents described. The parking lot on the other hand did. The “manned” parking lot had one guy who charged $20 to “watch” your car. It was a real parking lot, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if my window was smashed when I got back. From the parking lot was a quick walk to the Buckhead Theatre. From the outside it looks like an old style movie theater, probably because it was. I walked over to the box office window (reminiscing when I was a child going to the movies), showed my ID, got my pass, security checked my bag and let me inside.

The inside of the theatre was vast and beautiful. You can tell this venue is treated with love. Quick history, the theatre originally opened in 1931. In 2008 it was closed for restoration and re-opened in 2010. The inside is 8000 square feet and has a balcony level as well. I was beyond impressed with this venue. I walked my way down to the pit and started chatting with the security guard. We had a lot in common (both of us New Yorkers) and chit chatted until the first band was ready to come on stage. The whole time I hadn’t seen another photographer anywhere. Apparently, they were on the other side of the pit. Maybe they didn’t want to hang out with the outsider.

The first opener was The Chain Gang of 1974, a band I never heard until that night. They started out with a synthesized beat, which reminded me a bit of Depeche Mode. Kamtin Mohager, vocalist and songwriter, has a crystal clear falsetto who sings quite easily and loves to move around on stage.  They opened up with “Slow” and then moved into “Human”. Honestly, I’m a rock and metal fan. This show was definitely not something I would normally go see, but I was enraptured by Kamtin’s vocals and the music.

The lighting was so good in this venue. The LED lights were bright and a nice mix of blues, white, and red. Kamtin moves around a lot, which I liked, so the pictures don’t look the same. The pit wasn’t very deep either, so my 24-70mm lens captured everyone quite nicely. I laughed as the keyboard player had his hair covering his face the entire show. Maybe he didn’t like having his photo taken. I snapped off some pretty good shots before we had to leave the pit.

The pace of their music picked up right in the middle as they did some of their more well known songs of “Miko” and “Sleepwalking”. I was very surprised that I was enjoying myself. I’ve read their music has a 1980s pop style, which I could definitely hear. Kamtin thanked the crowd as their finished their set and the crowd showed their thanks with applause and screams.

After a brief intermission came the next band known as Xylo. They are a brother and sister duo, Paige and Chase Duddy, who only recently started working together in 2014. Paige strutted onto the stage with confidence as they started off with “Gossip”. Xylo’s style is also pop except their music isn’t as synth heavy as The Chain Gang of 1974. Paige’s vocals reminded me a bit of Sade with a higher pitch. They followed up with “Afterlife” from their America EP. This song is more synthesized which works perfectly with her vocals.

Once again, in the pit the lighting was amazing. Mostly white with no blues or reds that I can even recall. Paige moves around a lot so I tracked her back and forth. My only issue was having some of the other photographers jump in front of my lens while I was trying to snap a shot. I wasn’t happy about that as there was at least one great shot I lost due to a photographer’s head coming across my lens.

I came out of the pit again and went back into the crowd to review my shots. The performance stopped two separate times as Paige was having microphone issues. While the sound team worked on the issue, Chase spoke to the crowd and asked to cheer for his sister who was going a great job. Once the issue was fixed, they continued on with the show. The band continued an entertaining performance including “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” and their titled track “America”. Once they finished the crowd gave them a thundering applause.

In between the break in sets the crowd had gotten bigger and the floor of Buckhead Theatre was shoulder to shoulder packed. The balcony was full as well. I decided to step back into the lobby for a quick breather and noticed the merchandise tables. And sitting behind one of them was Kamtin. He was talking to two fans and signed some merchandise for them. After they finished I went over to introduce myself and talked to him for a minute. He’s a very personable and humble artist and was more than willing to talk. I asked if he had a copy of his setlist so I could use it for my article. He explained how he never uses setlist because he knows it so well. But, he took the time to write it down for me on the back of a marker package. Kamtin apologized for what he wrote it on and I laughed. I told him it was a great souvenir from the show. He smiled, I shook his hand, and thanked him for his time and enjoyable performance.

I made my way back in and down to the pit and waited for the headliners. Before they came out, a ton of fog was pumped into the theatre. I knew the lighting was not going to be as easy as the other two bands. The stage went dark and The Naked and Famous came out to the roar of the crowd. And I mean a roar. I couldn’t believe how loud in got within that venue.  The music started for “The Water Beneath You” from their latest album Simple Forms. Alisa Xayalith has amazing vocals and this band is heavy into the electronic sound with keyboards and pre-programmed sounds. Thom Powers, who also provides a great vocal, plays guitar as well. They followed up with “Higher” the opening single from Simple Forms. I actually recognized this song. Once again, Alisa’s voice is angelic and harmonizes very well with Thom.

As I suspected, their lighting was heavy in reds and blues. But, with the added fog it made for a spectacular light show as the blues and reds cut through the fog like laser beams. Thom and Alisa mostly stayed in their same spot so it wasn’t too difficult to photograph them. The drummer was very difficult as he was covered in mist the entire show. Though I was quite pleased with the one photo of the keyboardist (above) surrounded in fog and highlighted in blues and reds. This was the first show where I actually liked the red lights and how they were used.

After we left the pit, I made my way back into the crowd. This wasn’t as easy since everyone was shoulder to shoulder, but some people were nice enough to make room. I realized then the best view wasn’t from the pit, but from the back. The lighting with the fog on stage was surreal and captivating. And sometimes the stage got so dark the band looked like shadows against the blue and red lights. The band continued their show with “Losing Our Control” and “The Runners” also from the Simple Forms album. They were playing a lot from the new album to obviously promote it more.

The trio of The Chain Gang of 1974, Xylo, and The Naked and Famous was a perfect mix for this tour. Each had the same style of music yet all portrayed it differently. For someone who really doesn’t listen to pop music, I truly enjoyed the show. And when I walked back to my car that night, it was still there intact.