January 29, 2013
We don't know if you knew this or not, but Local Natives are kind of a big deal. In fact, they're such a big deal that they could go three years between releasing their first and second albums–even amongst new music spewing out of every digital orifice–and still be relevant enough to score a spot at Coachella and sell out two nights in Los Angeles.
Last night at the El Rey marked the Los Angeles-based quintet's second show in a row, as well as its record release for its sophomore album, Hummingbird. Because this night was celebratory, the majority of the setlist comprised songs off the brand new release. The band began with "You & I," the hazy opening track off its latest record, before quickly breaking into its newest single, "Breakers." And though the crowd was into it from the first note struck, its focus sharpened when the Silver Lake indie rockers began to play "Wide Eyes," the first track off their heralded freshman effort, Gorilla Manor. Suddenly, everyone in the audience sang along, dancing with their arms stretched to the ceiling.
This pattern continued as the five-piece played a couple new songs and then delved into older material. The crowd screamed during "Camera Talk," and jumped around to the sounds of "World News." But despite the fans' waves of sudden excitement, the band put equal amounts of heart and energy into each and every song, especially guitarist/vocalist Taylor Rice and keyboardist/percussionist/vocalist Kelcey Ayer. The two took turns singing and harmonizing, playing off each other's enthusiasm during the set. The mustachioed Rice feverishly strummed his guitar while Ayer hammered at the keys and beat a snare drum and cymbal nestled next to his keyboard arrangement.
The new songs were beautiful, and it was obvious so much passion and heart went into writing them, but where they excelled in depth and sincerity they lacked in catchiness and tempo. There's something to be said for raw, simple sing-a-long songs, and Local Natives have strayed from that structure that made them so popular in the first place. So when Ayer called out, "I'd like to embarrass my father, who is standing somewhere over there. This song is about his father," everyone knew what was coming next: "Airplane." But when he switched places with Rice and strapped on an acoustic guitar (for the only time during the performance) few knew it was Hummingbird's heart-wrenching "Colombia."
And when the SoCal natives began their encore with "Wooly Mammoth," there were a few claps, but when they ended the set with "Sun Hands," the crowd lost its collective shit. One dude even attempted to crowd surf. So what's the reason for this? Is it simply because the crowd hadn't had enough time with the new album (it did come out that same day, after all), or is it Hummingbird's lack of catchy, carefree tunes? I suppose only time will tell.
Critical Bias: Local Natives breathe new life into the live version of their studio recordings.
The Crowd: Everyone from industry shmoozers to high school kids being escorted by their parents.
Random Notebook Dump: Not sure how I feel about Rice's mustache…is it molester-chic or just downright molester?