Local Natives’ song ‘Wide Eyes’ has a soaring chorus that sings ‘Oh, to see it with my own eyes’ which guitarist Ryan Hahn says is about ‘people’s obsession…with witnessing extraordinary events’. As soon as the band open their mouths on stage, I realise I am about to witness an extraordinary event with my own eyes, and in the days that have followed, I have realised I am a little bit obsessed.
What is extraordinary about Local Natives’ live show is simply that it is happening, live, in the flesh. The hymnal harmonies that cascade from the band and bound through the crowd are unimpeded by autotune or button-twiddling; they are organic and alive. They open with ‘Breakers’ and Matt Frazier’s elaborate, tribal drumming from the back of the stage drives the band forward like a propellor with an urgency that commands attention. The guitars and mandolin converse in rich textures, effortless and precise and worthy of the many Talking Heads comparisons. If they wished, I am sure the force of their vocal delivery alone could part a stupefied crowd and carry them up to the higher realms where their voices belong.
This is Local Natives’ first UK show in two years, and is accompanied by the new album, Hummingbird, born of the death of singer-keyboardist Kelcey Ayer’s mother, break ups and departed bandmates. They blast older songs ‘Warning Sign’, ‘Wide Eyes’ and ‘World News’ with real vigour, but suddenly we start to venture in to unchartered Hummingbird territory and things move from rousing to entirely absorbing. Ayer’s ethereal Justin-Vernon-Thom-Yorke-nuanced falsetto in ‘Colombia’ and ‘You And I’ is painfully elegiac; even the busy bar staff stop working as he and his keyboard take a solo in ‘Heavy Feet’. It feels as though the depth and complexity of their music has been complemented by equally deep and complex themes. No longer are the band charging through the Brudenell Social Club aiming skywards, they are simply floating on a cloud while we all gaze up.
They regain some velocity to end with ‘Airplanes’ and ‘Sun Hands’ and we are united in a singalong that feels like a celebration of catharsis. Local Natives have taken us on an expedition through the last few years of their lives and we have all made it out the other side, ‘to lift our hands towards the sun’ as the encore goes. There is even something unifying in their stage presence – they have no front man; they just occupy the stage in a line. It makes an overwhelming show of instruments and harmonies, at times almost a wall of sound.
Indeed, as my eyes flicker from Hahn’s beautiful mandolin to Taylor Rice’s moustache to Frazier’s blurry hands to the snake-like hip movements of the touring bassist to Ayer’s two-synths-plus-half-a-drum-kit setup, unable to focus on all the intricacies at once, I realise that what is exciting about Local Natives is that these men together, the band itself, is bigger than the sum of each constituent part. They are simply very good at being a band. They have lived together, write together, perform so astonishingly cohesively together and the new songs of tonight show they’ve been growing and learning together, personally and musically. To witness all this come together in a live show really is extraordinary.By Alice Lawrence