It was in March 2014 that I was convinced TNAF, fronted by exotic lead singer/keyboardist Alisa Xayalith and active axman Thom Powers while opening for Imagine Dragons at the sold-out Pepsi Center in Denver, would emerge well beyond supporting act status to achieve headlining success on their own. Can a feeling of deja vu strike twice, or does that only work with lightning?
Representing XYLØ on Halloween night 2016, a pigtailed Paige Duddy (right), 22, in fetching Harley Quinn mode that, though less revealing, compared favorably with Suicide Squad's Margot Robbie, teamed with her older brother Chase Duddy, 32. Behind the drum kit, he wore a Batman mask and costume alongside two touring musicians dressed in superhero outfits.
They all had the Herculean task of winning over a juiced-up Denver crowd in the far more compact but cooler Ogden Theatre awaiting the Naked and Famous' epic appearance as larger-than-life personalities from Star Wars.
Trying to measure how the two acts stacked up against each other would be as unfair as pitting DC Comics characters against Star Wars heroes and villains. Their alternate universes exist in time zones far, far away.
XYLØ (rhymes with high-low) was stuck in the middle of a three-band night following the Chain Gang of 1974's opening slot, yet expectations were high. Just knowing the Duddys (left) inherited musical gifts from a rich familial legacy of players -- whose work landed on recordings by artists ranging from the Bee Gees, Steely Dan and Pink Floyd to Michael Jackson and Madonna -- was a promising sign.
On the other hand, this Los Angeles-based duo come from a La La Land filled with performers who plan to rule the world one day. The competition to even earn a Hotel Cafe residency is as fierce as a Hollywood film audition cage match with two actors battling for a supporting role.
XYLØ's career has been moving at warp speed over the World Wide Web since the release of "America," thanks in part to an online PacSun commercial in 2014 that was directed by their cousin Cameron Duddy and featured trending Kardashian sisters Kendall and Kylie.
Paige and Chase Duddy have managed this meteoric rise without the release of a full-length album. Out since February, the America EP has six tracks totaling about 21 minutes. An abbreviated nine-song set list on this Denver tour stop just managed to extend beyond their Disruptor Records/Sony RAL debut recording, which was updated in July with a remix release of four of the EP's songs.
They filled out the 34-minute show with recent singles such as "Gossip," "Dead End Love" and set closer "Fool's Paradise," which surpassed the 1 million mark in streams and led to a video that Billboard premiered.
Yet online numbers from Soundcloud, YouTube and Facebook don't always add up to mainstream mayhem, high-profile gigs or substantive careers. One of my favorite groups from Southern California over the past few years -- He's My Brother She's My Sister -- apparently has gone under while another -- the Fairground Saints -- needs a lifeline to stay afloat despite the trio's phenomenal full-length album debut in 2015 and talent that belies their age.
I root for groups like these to make it, and wish XYLØ much success beyond the instant gratification received from social media gadflies who follow the buzz, then start searching for the Next Big Thing before the ink is dry on a record label deal.
The Duddys undoubtedly have worked hard in a short period of time to get where they are -- and if looks alone could thrill, they would be at the top of the charts. Good luck, clever branding and a groundswell of initial support doesn't hurt either. Yet there's room for improvement and -- though they probably already realize that -- hopefully there's someone in charge pushing them in the right direction.
XYLØ's tunes are pleasant enough, allowing Paige Duddy's dreamy voice, more spellbinding than stimulating, to lead the listener down a righteous road. Seeing them live for the first time, though, I expected more during this brief introduction, especially on a fright night of trick-or-treating. If they want to reach the next level, a few side trips off the beaten path might jolt an audience out of a Zen-like state.
Paige Duddy, who shares the stage with her brother Chase in the Los Angeles-based duo XYLØ, performs Oct. 31 at the Ogden Theatre in Denver.
Prowling back and forth across the stage in stylish black boots, Paige tried to seize control but admitted she got winded, apparently falling victim to the Mile High altitude (it happens to everyone).
Those soft vocals often were overwhelmed in the mix of sonic lasts by Aquaman's Nick Truhan (keyboards) and Superman's Lee Newell (guitars), along with the rumblings of her Batman brother (left), who talked his little sister into starting this band after working in his 20s as a composer/producer.
Her voice has potential, though, as exhibited during a stunningly soulful delivery of "America," a tender take on love and freedom that was XYLØ's most powerful display of the night.
Paige, who admitted in a recent interview with The Untitled Magazine that she didn't take singing seriously until reaching the age of 18, also did her best to connect with the crowd.
There were multiple pleas for spectators to raise their hands during the bridge of "Dead End Love," and a timid request to take their picture (below right) after "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." But the entire set essentially lacked ebb and flow, leading to an anticlimactic finish.
Assessing a band's talent based on one supporting show and a handful of tunes isn't nearly as difficult as trying to wow a party-hearty crowd on a festive night when the audience, mixing candy with booze, sees you as the appetizer before the main course. So instead of a pass-fail grade this time, here come a few suggestions for XYLØ to consider on their way to Tomorrowland, free of charge:
1. Mix up your set list. Even if requires performing a popular cover like No Doubt's "Spiderwebs," the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian" or, as a tribute of relative importance, Madonna's "Express Yourself." A similar move worked wonders for Orange County band Save Ferris, who turned Dexy's Midnight Runners' "Come on Eileen" into their most successful single. Just don't take your own songs so seriously and stretch outside your comfort zone. After all, it's only music.
2. Expand your boundaries. Perhaps embracing more collaborative projects like early November's "Setting Fires" with the Chainsmokers could take XYLØ further into uncharted territory.
3. Don't let those darn rebellious kids persuade you to speak their language. Try writing colorful lyrics without dropping the F-bombs or other four-letter words. Now that's really revolutionary.
4. Release a full-length album. Take a few months off to write and assemble a group of session musicians that will work with an adventurous producer who isn't afraid to take chances in the studio -- and will make sure you'll feel the same way.
5. Know the audience you're building. When you return to the road, start out by headlining small, intimate clubs where you can test new material and keep experimenting until you feel confident enough to play a 90-minute show in bigger houses across the county.
Just think. In two years, XYLØ could be headlining the Ogden Theatre, packing a brother-sister punch as powerful as Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. May the force be with you, too.
Publicity photo by Anna Maria Lopez. Concert photos by Michael Bialas. See more of XYLØ and the Naked and Famous at the Halloween night concert in Denver.