Tickets for Tuesday night’s Local Natives show apparently sold out in minutes rather than days when they initially went on sale a few months back. The same goes for their Monday night show at the Fonda Theatre. If you need firm evidence of the Silverlake band’s rapidly growing profile, there it is. Tuesday saw the release of their second album, Hummingbird, and their performance at El Rey suggests that Local Natives might have to get used to selling out bigger venues than this.
Though their debut, Gorilla Manor, exhibited an obvious affinity for the likes of Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes (particularly with those vocal harmonies), and The National (Aaron Dessner actually performed on the new record and acted as producer), the sheer confidence of their live show was proof that they have every chance of emulating the kind of huge leap in popularity that their contemporaries have previously made. The five-piece performed for an hour and a quarter in front of a rapturous sellout crowd, mixing the unfamiliar but impressive new songs with favorites that most of the crowd seemed to know all the words to. Their style is an open-hearted mix of power and delicacy, of a touchingly personal songwriting approach and real meat on the bones.
One of the keys to their success is a superb rhythm section. Matt Frazier’s propulsive rhythms were often supplemented by Kelcey Ayer, who was a consummate pro and managed to be a second drummer, keyboardist, and vocalist all at the same time for most of the show. It was Kelcey’s soaring vocal that opened the show, as the band kicked the set off with “You and I” and “Breakers” from the new album. “Breakers” in particular was an indicator of what to expect from Hummingbird. Its portentous intro gave way to a rush of sound and a multi-part harmony that was just about audible over the maelstrom. “Wide Eyes” followed to appease the fans’ patience as they tried to get a grasp on the newer material as quickly as they could.
What stood out about the new songs was the band’s increased confidence. Not only did they look completely comfortable in front of the expectant crowd, but they now have enough faith in their material to not need the big choruses and hooks. The likes of “Colombia” and “Bowery” (their final pre-encore song) are a collection of small moments and details that add up to something greater than the sum of their parts, and the more downbeat feel to the music does not alter the songs’ appeal judging by the response it received from the El Rey punters.
The highlight of the show was still on old one, though. Kelcey introduced “Airplanes” by admitting that the song had been written about his grandfather but dedicating it to his father, and the rendition was joyful and energetic. Sometimes on record the band allows its influences to be a little too close to the surface, but they perform with such passion and emotion as to eradicate any minor sense of cynicism. Watching the band belt out “Airplanes,” the audience connection was palpable.
Before the end of the show the band admitted it would not be playing LA for a while due to its upcoming slot at Coachella. Local Natives have taken the step up to such a degree that it is impossible not to imagine them pulling in a huge crowd in the desert. On the evidence of Hummingbird’s tracks, the band’s evident maturation has served to enhance its qualities rather than dull its edges. Local Natives is familiar without being formulaic, professional without being overly polished, and there was an honesty and sincerity to their performance that is impossible to fake. It’s going to be a big year for this band.
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