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‘I used to come to shows here’: San Diego native Naomi McPherson sells out Observatory with pop band MUNA

MUNA is comprised of Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson.
L.A. pop trio MUNA, USC college friends-turned-queer idols, who got a new lease on life after leaving RCA and signing to Phoebe Bridgers’ label Saddest Factory. The band is comprised of Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson.
(Emily Monforte / For The Los Angeles Times)

“How many people in this room went to high school with me?” asked MUNA member Naomi McPherson on Monday night.

A San Diego native, the multi-instrumentalist had a handful of friends and family members in the audience of the band’s show at the Observatory in North Park.

Lead singer Katie Gavin chimed in teasing, “How many people in the room had a crush on Naomi in high school… And now how many people have a crush on Naomi now?”

The room burst into applause, leaving McPherson flustered.

“You’re cute you little nerd,” said Gavin. MUNA’s lead guitarist, Josette Maskin, laughed along.

“You wanna fight me?” joked McPherson.

The three became friends while studying at the University of Southern California back in 2013, and their playful banter took center stage the entire night.

After releasing their first two studio albums “About U” and “Saves the World” under RCA Records, the trio signed to indie-rock artist Phoebe Bridgers’ label Saddest Factory Records in spring of 2021. They have toured with Bridgers and country artist Kacey Musgraves since, and their current North American tour marks their first set of headlining shows since signing with Saddest Factory Records.

Their most recent record “MUNA” released in June 2022 and earned a 7.8 Pitchfork rating, just a hair above the groups previous album’s 7.7 rating, which each member got tattooed in celebration.

Monday’s show was sold out, and the venue filled up quickly ahead of opener Jensen McRae, who played for half an hour to a nearly full house. Alone on stage with just her guitar, McRae performed an acoustic set filled with gut-wrenching lyrics and sprinklings of comedic relief.

“Does anyone follow me on TikTok?” she asked before playing her final song “Make You Proud” which launched her to viral fame back in 2021.

The audience was a sea of high top Converse shoes and glittery blouses, full of 20-somethings dancing away to the early 2000s-inspired pre-show playlist, with hits like “Stacey’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne and “Dirty Little Secret” by All-American Rejects.

MUNA’s sultry, queer pop music is laced together with a thread of this 2000s nostalgia, infused with pop-rock guitar solos and building intensity while maintaining an undeniable, unabashed sense of pride through their lyrics. Their music is all about giving into desires and listening to impulses, a creative process that Gavin compared to “healing your inner child” in a recent LA Times interview.

The band came out a few minutes before 9 p.m. with a long and epic entrance full of smoke, colorful pulsing strobe lights and a dramatic instrumental prelude to the groups latest single, “What I Want.”

With lines like “I want to dance in the middle of a gay bar” and “That’s what I want / There’s nothing wrong / With what I want,” the synth-pop track embodies MUNA’s unapologetic queer joy, perfect to set the tone for the group’s 17 song set.

The three looked euphoric, not one of them able to wipe the grins off of their faces as they ran around the stage. McPherson flipped between keyboard and electric guitar throughout the show, and Maskin stuck to the guitar while serving as the bands unofficial hype-person, mouthing every word along with the crowd and motioning for clapping and jumping during most songs.

Gavin grabbed a guitar toward the end of the show for some of the slower songs. With her hands free for a majority of the set, Gavin was able to do mini choreographed dances during the instrumental portions of songs like “Number One Fan” and “Anything but Me,” swinging around the stage and coordinating dramatic, on-beat hair flips with McPherson and Maskin during the explosive outro of angsty breakup song, “Stayaway.”

The chemistry between the trio was undeniable, and their playful dynamic and lighthearted bickering between songs make it feel like you were eavesdropping on an intimate studio session.

During “Anything but Me,” which ponders the liberating feeling of a breakup, Gavin hovered over McPherson’s shoulder while singing the line, “Sure, I’m gonna cry for the love we couldn’t keep.” The pair dated for three years before initially getting signed by RCA. McPherson, who uses they/them pronouns, traced a fake tear down their face and smiled.

The show felt like one giant queer prom, filled with songs made for dancing like the euphoric “Silk Chiffon” and suggestive “No Idea.” A few slower burning ballads like “If U Love Me Now” and “Loose Garment” made up what the band proclaimed the “crying corner” of the setlist, packed with heavier themes of loss and pain.

A few songs before the encore, the trio delivered a pop rendition of The Killers’ 2004 alt-rock classic “Mr. Brightside.” When introducing the song, Gavin urged the crowd to jump around and sing along as loudly as possible, claiming that if the band could feast on vegan burritos before the show and still bounce around during the set, so could the audience.

McPherson cut in, shouting out Rancho’s Cocina in North Park, which is known for its vegetarian and vegan Mexican food. This garnered cheers of approval from the crowd.

When McPherson began to play the main guitar riff of the song, everyone went crazy. The lyrics reverberated around the room, with fans yelling, “It was only a kiss,” more audibly than Gavin at some points.

This energy surged through to the end of the show, when MUNA had the entire crowd screaming, “Life’s so fun,” at the top of their lungs during an encore performance of the groups smash hit, “Silk Chiffon.” McPherson stepped in to sing label head Phoebe Bridgers’ verse as two fans flung pink sparkly cowboy hats into the air.

Fans swarmed around the merch booth at the end of the show, which was filled with t-shirts reading, “Greatest band in the world.” A presumptuous title to self proclaim, MUNA is bold like their music, unafraid to say it how they see it.


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