The Naked and Famous were winding down their final performance as a supporting act on Imagine Dragons' 2014 Into the Night tour when a frightening image emerged from stage right in Denver's sold-out Pepsi Center and creepily approached petite lead singer/keyboardist Alisa Xayalith.
If this had been New York or Los Angeles, security might have rushed in to subdue the intruder. But the hairy and husky man wearing only a pig mask (think Dudley Moore in Unfaithfully Yours) and colored briefs that looked nothing like tidy whities barely merited a second glance from Xayalith and her four bandmates dressed in black.
When you already feel like you're in hog heaven, getting punked isn't nearly enough to disrupt the Naked and Famous' cool demeanor.
The prankster -- nearly naked and already famous -- for this March 15 show was none other than Imagine Dragons bassist Ben McKee. He eventually revealed himself (thankfully by only taking off the mask) as he exited stage left to cheers and applause, setting the mood for what was to come from his merry band of headliners.
The Naked and Famous, a New Zealand quintet that meshes Thom Powers' crunchy guitar riffs and Aaron Short's powerful EDM gadgetry with Xayalith's lovely and ethereal voice, seemingly enjoyed the moment.
They even shared their amusement with the Twitterverse:
The band, further enhancing its reputation in the United States with the release of In Rolling Waves last September, got an enthusiastic reception while gliding through nine songs in 42 minutes that kept an exhilarated group of mostly beastie boys and gossip girls thoroughly entertained.
Before witnessing animal magnetism during "Young Blood," their gold record that served as the set finale, Xayalith sounded thrilled by their tour upgrade (with a 17,600-seat capacity) and the warm welcome in Denver. "It has been the most amazing experience," she said. "We've never played in arenas before, so I just want to say an incredible big thank you from the bottom of hearts to Imagine Dragons for granting us this experience."
Not that they weren't already blessed with success before In Rolling Waves.
But just last fall the Naked and Famous were playing smaller yet still ambitiously mid-sized venues such as the 3,700-seat Fillmore in Denver, the Wiltern in Los Angeles and Stubbs in Austin, Texas. Song placements in films (the 2013 Carrie remake), TV shows (Gossip Girl) and video games have helped to develop a built-in kinetic congregation.
That made it possible to whip through their energetic set with workmanlike style and grace, only pausing between a couple of songs, when Xayalith or Powers small-talked a huge audience.
With colored lights flashing and the propulsive beats of bassist David Beadle and drummer Jesse Wood enticing the crowd to stay on its feet throughout, the Naked and Famous set off a series of explosions on the opening "A Stillness," its acoustic-based kickoff ultimately transforming into rollicking blasts of energy that also propel In Rolling Waves.
Surprisingly, the Naked and Famous performed only three other songs from the album -- "Rolling Waves," the lovely ballad taken to soaring heights by Powers' electric shock treatments; the instantly recognizable "Hearts Like Ours," which they introduced to America during their U.S. television debut late last year on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson; and "I Kill Giants," with blinking red lights disguising the fact that this was Xayalith's touching ode to her mother, a victim of breast cancer who died when Alisa was still a little girl:
Black dress & black shoes /
Tied laces for you /
The saddest of days /
Why couldn't we save you?
For the most part, though, older material from Passive Me, Aggressive You got the preferential treatment.
Powers (left), who briefly left his microphone to shake loose along the runway during "Punching in a Dream," shared more of the vocal duties on songs such as "Girls Like You" and "All of This" from their September 2010 debut.
While the entire group was fashionably monochromatic, the exotic, ever-evolving Xayalith stood out with a blonde pixie cut that's an about-face from the dark 'do she presented during 2012's One Temporary Escape. That 66-minute made-for-video show at the Warfield in San Francisco, still available for free download on their website, featured 12 of the 13 songs from Passive Me, Aggressive You.
As a supporting act on this 2014 tour, the Naked and Famous displayed more passive than aggressive behavior, and despite their passionate delivery, disappeared without an encore.
But Xayalith (right) and Aja Volkman, lead singer of opening act Nico Vega, returned near the tail end of Imagine Dragons' set as excited backup vocalists during "It's Time," the Las Vegas-based group's first successful single that remembers a city that "never sleeps at night."
Dan Reynolds, Imagine Dragons' unstoppable frontman (and Volkman's husband), towered over them both, but Xayalith sang, smiled and waved. Before exiting, she gave a tight hug to McKee, who by then was fully clothed. The practical joker had brought the pig mask back for its own encore during a bass solo preceding the crowd-pleasing flurry of "Demons," "It's Time," "On Top of the World," and "Radioactive."
Xayalith's swan song was a nice way for the Naked and Famous lead singer to go out before concluding this run with their own headlining stop two days later at the Belly Up in Aspen. Their upcoming itinerary includes a visit to Coachella in April, a Down Under tour, their first headlining show in hometown Auckland, New Zealand, then more U.S. dates leading up to Bonnaroo followed by a busy summer in Europe.
Which raises the question: Can an alternative New Zealand band match the mainstream success of an outfit that escaped Utah and avoided Las Vegas lounge act hell by continuing to beat its own drums until it finally got your attention?
In a world where Pink Floyd makes pigs fly and Imagine Dragons go hog wild, anything's possible.
Concert photos by Michael Bialas. See more of the Naked and Famous and Imagine Dragons at the Pepsi Center on March 15, 2014.
The Naked and Famous set list:
1. A Stillness
2. Punching in a Dream
3. Girls Like You
4. Rolling Waves
5. All of This
6. I Kill Giants
7. Hearts Like Ours
8. No Way
9. Young Blood
Follow Michael Bialas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mjbialas