WRITTEN BY: JARED PHILLIPS
It was that same opening clamor of voices, smattering of percussion and simple harmonized hook “I want you back!” that was all too familiar. Yet somehow, it felt completely fresh and invigorating to hear. It was the Local Natives’ “Airplanes”: one of the more popular cuts in the Los Angeles-based five piece’s discography. I had heard the song many times before, but this time something new hit me.
Maybe it helped that I was in Los Angeles this summer at the time of my rediscovery of one of the best young indie rock bands out right now. Maybe it was the way Local Natives captured the essence of that west coast vibe in their first two releases, 2010’s “Gorilla Manor” and 2013’s “Hummingbird.” Maybe the timing was just right with the release of their third LP in September, “Sunlit Youth.”
Here’s what I do know: there are few, if any, indie rock bands on the scene right now that can do so much with so little. The minimalistic approach that Local Natives took on their first two albums, highlighted by clipped guitar chords, light-handed percussion and simple – yet not corny – vocal harmonies, created a unique form of atmospheric indie that encapsulated the southern California feel to a T.
That continued with September’s “Sunlit Youth.” Taking influences from the various international locations the band travelled to while recording the album, lead singer/guitarist Taylor Rice and co. incorporated more electronic elements into their sound, without destroying the integrity of what they had in place. The result is an evolved band. Are the added elements a bit too ambitious at times? Of course. But just the fact that they are willing to take chances like that is an exciting step forward for a band that needed to show signs of growth at the crucial third LP stage.
This brings us to October 19. Between the timing of the summer and the release of a very strong third record, I surprisingly found myself the most excited for a show that I’ve been in quite some time. Unsurprisingly, the former Cavil at Rest ensemble rocked the Electric Factory with ease.
The show opened up with Toronto-based Charlotte Day Wilson, whose soft-spoken demeanor provided a stark – ironically, she looks a bit like Sophie Turner, who portrays Sansa Stark on “Game of Thrones” – contrast to her heart-on-her-sleeve belted vocals. Simply put, this girl has some pipes.
Local Natives’ vocalist and keyboardist Kelcey Ayer gave the audience a heads-up at the start of their show that they were going to play a lot of music from their new record. The crowd happily obliged, and with good reason. The band’s new tracks like “Past Lives,” “Jellyfish” and “Coins” have a unique rock-ability to them live.
I quickly learned how frequently these guys switch things up when Ayer took over lead vocals on early cuts like “You & I.” Judging from their records, Rice feels like the driving force in Local Natives’ stomp-driven vocals, but this realization is merely a nod to their seamless harmonization.
The band as a whole looked like it was partaking in an intense game of musical chairs, with the members jumping from one instrument to another the moment the music would stop. That versatility shines through thanks to distinction of song style, from an Ayer-led “Wide Eyes” to a Rice-led “Villainy”.
After Local Natives finished playing their new song “Mother Emanuel,” Ayer relayed the story of the band’s first time in Philadelphia. The affair involved crashing on a random promoter’s couch as he stayed up all night playing video games. That first visit seemed to encompass the Philly experience for a band trying to get off the ground, playing small bars across the country.
They followed this immediately with the aforementioned “Airplanes”, a huge crowd pleaser. Another highlight was the heart-wrenching “Columbia,” a ballad about Ayer’s mother Patricia passing away. It was an extremely personal moment that created an emotional atmosphere at the Electric Factory.
At this point in the show, Rice strapped on a white Fender with the words “Make America
Afraid Again” written on the side. He spoke about the idea that even though there is so much anger and hate in this world, we must still hold onto the peace we have and the good moments that present themselves each day. This powerful moment hit a crescendo when Local Natives broke into their lead single “Fountain of Youth,” a track that contains heavy topical lyrics like, “I have waited so long, Mrs. President.”
Local Natives aren’t alone here. This comes at a time when a number of bands are lashing out at the upcoming presidential election, but the added context brings to light the fact that influential figures are finally realizing the impact that they can have.
Probably the least surprising moment of the night came when the guys closed out the show with “Sun Hands,” as Taylor Rice crowd-surfed his way through the audience to belt the final chorus. This foot-stomper is the perfect song to bring the night to an end and leave the audience rocking.
In music, context is everything. How you hear a song will always dictate how you feel about it, and with the Local Natives, I caught on at just the right time.
- Past Lives
- Wide Eyes
- You & I
- Mother Emanuel
- Heavy Feet
- Dark Days
- Fountain of Youth
- Who Knows Who Cares
- Sea of Years
- Sun Hands
Featured Image Courtesy: Freebird Live