Since setting up shop in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles in 2008, Local Natives have become fixtures of the area’s artistic culture. When they weren’t touring the world, the band members could be spotted as easily as the Hollywood sign, playing everywhere from their residencies at the tiny Silver Lake Lounge (February 2009) and the not-much-bigger Spaceland (August 2009) to headlining venues of an always increasing size. The band has played free shows at their Alma Mater of UCLA, been billed at the majority of L.A.’s many festivals, and managed a performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Even when not performing, the band could often be spotted at local venues checking out other acts or dining as a group at local brunch spots. Local Natives hardly seemed like an entity that punched any proverbial time clock and their observable friendship and loyalty to their home could draw in fans to feel like a small part of the equation.
But, recently it became apparent that Local Natives were cheating on us. Yes, they recorded their upcoming sophomore effort, Hummingbird, in New York with The National’s Aaron Dessner and even went as far to play their first set of new material last week at CMJ, those harlots. Despite having great international success with their debut, Gorilla Manner, Local Natives had always felt like a local band to many in L.A., but this branching out for Hummingbird, as well as the early marketing and publicity techniques being used, indicates an end to that distinction is coming, if it hasn’t arrived already.
Still, the band announced on Tuesday morning that they would be headlining a surprise show that night at Silver Lake’s 260-person capacity club, The Satellite. Returning home after their much publicized CMJ triumph, the band treated their neighborhood to a chance to sample some of their new tunes for themselves. And, the people responded, with the event selling out before most had even heard it was happening. Fans who didn’t get tickets lined up down the block for hours in hopes that some tickets might go unclaimed and be released at the start time, thankfully not giving in to the Craigslist asking price of nearly three figures. It is hard to say if such a reaction would occur in another city for the fairly unproven band, but with a hometown success story possibly playing for a final time in such an intimate space, the show felt like a big deal. And, the question waiting to be answered was whether their new material would deliver on the very high hopes and expectations. After all, for Local Natives to really make the big jump to the sort of indie headliner akin to a Grizzly Bear or Beirut-level, Hummingbird has to be good.
Like, really good.
After support from the always reliable Superhumanoids, some of the mystique was broken as the band took to the stage to set up their own instruments, leaving me to wonder why I expected them not to set up their own equipment. Once the lights dimmed, they went right to work, opening with two new cuts, the piano-based “Black Spot” and the Hummingbird‘s first single “Breakers.” Both songs maintained the band’s aesthetic, but added that Dessner trademark of reaching for bigger moments of drama and making them seem to come from a very natural place. “Black Spot” was almost a mini-epic, travelling from quiet and bare to full and intense, all while maintaining instant accessibility for the audience. Following with “Breakers” assured the crowd’s early engagement, and of course the song comes across even better live than on the YouTube stream. Both of the band’s lead singers, Taylor Rice and Kelcey Ayer, took the opportunity to address the crowd after “Breakers”, with Ayer noting that playing in L.A. was “tits” (has there ever been a worse word for saying something is good?) and Rice laying out the night’s game plan of playing mostly new tracks with a few oldies sprinkled in. Seamlessly they launched right into one of those favorites in “Wide Eyes”, and the crowd ate it up.
The set would end up introducing us to seven of Hummingbird‘s 11 tracks, and lived somewhere in the neighborhood between good and great, generally a good sign for songs introduced in a live setting. The biggest change appears to be a slight move away from the very organic, percussion-heavy leanings of their first album, and replacing that with more electronic percussion elements and other synthesized effects. My show notes literally have the titles of songs as “drum effects song” (“You & I”) and “weird keyboard noise song” (“Ceilings”). The overall shift in sound is logical and smooth, giving the new tunes a little more ambition without sacrificing the rich harmonies and tight musicianship that have gotten Local Natives to this point. It helped that the band was obviously very well rehearsed, not giving any feeling of the night being something like a warmup show.
Individually, some tracks stood out more than others, with the last of the night, “Bowery” and “Three Months”, being a little more difficult to engage on first listen. “Heavy Feet” is the only real up-tempo number of the bunch and it offers more drum effects with a crisp cracking sound featured prominently. Of the songs featured, Ayer took lead more often than not, and he seems to be pushing his falsetto more, often times sounding a bit Justin Vernon-esque and allowing the songs further into the realm of what we consider beautiful. And for this set of mostly new material, the audience remained attentive and appreciative, alleviating any concerns the band might have been bottling with regards to first sharing their new material.
But, obviously, it was the old songs that got The Satellite’s biggest reactions, with the early choices (“Wide Eyes,” their cover of Talking Heads’ “Warning Sign”) showing a bit of a detachment on the part of the band, understandable considering the task of playing so many new numbers. But, “Who Knows Who Cares” righted that ship and saw the floor of the room jumping and lifting their hands as the song built, concluding as a highlight of the night. This sort of reaction became only more common, and by the time they closed with their traditional closer of “Sun Hands”, both the audience and the band were engaged in a sea of spastic movement, leaving the lasting impression as one of joy and release.
To introduce that song, Rice mentioned that they had gone out to a nearby basketball court before the set and sang “Sun Hands” to warmup, something they also did when they played their residency in the same room (then Spaceland) three years prior. That residency served as a launching pad for the band, but apparently Local Natives don’t live by the old mantra of never looking back. This awareness of coming full circle, with them ideally launching now to another level of success, will only help them succeed, but it’s hard to imagine the circle coming around again for a long time. Where Local Natives are heading, something like local support becomes secondary and home neighborhoods are visited less and less. No goodbyes were said, but the hope of everyone in the room would be for the stars to line up in the Local Natives direction, as everything from the strength of their music to the energy in their performances to even their general disposition of joy and gratitude speaks of a band deserving of any success that they attain.
You and I
Who Knows Who Cares