Positioned on stage behind a broad, shiny white desk, with an Apple laptop on either side, 28-year-old Shahid Khan looked not so much like a musician, more like the chief executive of a cool and funky corporation. Which, in a sense, is what he is: Watford-born Khan, who goes by the Pythonesque name of Naughty Boy, has in recent years helped boost the careers of stars such as Emeli Sandé, Cheryl Cole, Wiley and Tinie Tempah with his songwriting and production skills; now, with the recent release of his debut solo album Hotel Cabana, he is launching himself on to the market, and this gig, the first night in a brief UK tour, was his initial public offering.
As roadshows go it was impressively slick, with appearances from a string of singers and rappers who guested on his album – most notably from Sandé herself (cue camera phone frenzy among the crowd), from vocal duo Chasing Grace, and from Sam Smith, the voice behind Naughty’s summer hit single, “La La La”. The music was provided by a drummer squeezed by Naughty’s big workstation into the corner of the stage, a similarly confined bassist, a keyboardist and pre-recorded samples. It was also loud. Distortingly loud. It felt as if we were being bludgeoned into submission.
Khan is plainly a gifted songwriter but I got little sense of who he actually is. Early in the show he retold the familiar tale of how in 2006 he was delivering pizzas for Domino’s and now he’s living the dream but there was no sense here of the man or his story; he was just a guy behind a desk. Curiously, one of the most engaging musical moments came in his arrangement of someone else’s song – Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”: in the hands of singer Tanika, this ultimate ode to in-the-moment hedonism was slowed down, stretched out, attenuated, sparse, even haunting.
A curious affair, then. As Mark Ronson has shown, it is possible for producers to cross over into live performance. But Ronson is cool. Khan’s lack of charisma, and his awkward demeanour (“Yeah, Brixton . . . [cough, cough] . . . we are coming to the hend” was about as good as it got), suggest that his future lies out of the spotlight.