Album and Show Review: Local Natives

 

Anna Forster-Smith

 

After listening to Local Native’s sophomore album Hummingbird for roughly the 157th time, I was obviously in love, but it felt distinctly different than the sentiments I had for their debut album, Gorilla Manor. There is a significant shift in tone on Hummingbird, not a bad shift, but a definite seriousness that was absent in their initial tracks. Songs such as “Columbia” and “Three Months” are packed with singer/ keyboardist Kelcey Ayer’s beautiful, wailing voice rolling over rhythmic synths and pulsing chords. There are definite strong notes of sadness and anger on this album, which comes as no surprise after Ayer’s mother passed away just this past summer. It is clear he channeled a lot of his loss into the band’s songwriting. The result is a progressive second album, but there are still the classic marks Local Natives can never avoid. Dramatic crescendos, scream-y breakdowns, it’s all there with a bit of a somber twist.

As I am currently studying in France, when I saw that Local Natives were playing in Paris on March 5th, I knew I had to be there. When I saw it was sold out, I wasn’t a bit surprised, but I did have a bit of a scream-y breakdown myself. Fortunately they were playing a few shows around France, and I found one only five hours away by train! I would seriously do anything to see these dudes. I can’t say I was expecting a mellow vibe, but I also was not expecting to be caught in the middle of a French mosh pit either.

From their very first song, “You and I”, I knew I was in for a seriously amazing show. The energy in the room picked up right away. It’s a lot harder to get a French crowd on their feet and groovin’, but Local Natives had no problem. You could tell that they really enjoy what they do, each member has their own aura, and it’s just so easy to feed off their energy. Kelcey Ayer’s voice could easily overpower Beyoncé. The boy has pipes. He really sings with expression and heart, something that has been hard to find recently in all these popular whispery indie bands that are so au courant. Ryan Hahn, guitarist and back up vocalist was playing the closest to where we were, and he had his laid back, California chiller vibe flowing. Then there was guitarist/ vocalist Taylor Rice who throughout the show had an intense dance/jerk motion going, the dude could not be still. He just seemed so in tune with his relationship with the music, and he let the intensity flow through him onto the stage. Also his enormous porn star mustache and skinny pants were obviously appealing to all the females in the crowd. Each member definitely had their unique persona, but their sound was extremely cohesive. Almost every song built into an enormous instrumental breakdown, at times is was overwhelming. Hearing “Columbia” live was a highlight for me. The song was written after Ayer’s mother passed away, and the raw emotion he conveyed with this song was so tangible. The song finished in a very angry, dissonant swell, and Ayer had to take a pause before they began the next song. It is moments like this that you don’t get while just listening to the album. The emotions shared between the audience and the band are so crucial to understanding the intention behind a song. Then they also played songs like “Ceilings”. Even in a crowded room of frenchies, it still felt so intimate during songs like this. Local Native’s songwriting is passionate, and some of their layered harmonies come across like psych folk lullabies. Perfect listening for long train trips across Europe one might add.

Of course they played some old favorites. “Wide Eyes” opening guitar strums garnered more than a few screams from the audience, and when they finally played “Who Knows, Who Cares”, a personal favorite, I was practically melting with joy. It was a strange feeling hearing a song that has always been familiar to the realms of my car on long road trips through the American West a.) live, and b.) in France. It was a jarring experience, one that made me a little homesick, especially during lines like “So we took a van down to Colorado/ Where we ran into the dead / I took by the hand / ohh ohh ohhhh.”.  However, it also made me ecstatic to know that this amazing band is sharing their sound in tucked away towns in France, and all over the world. It’s exciting how popular these guys have become; yet they still seem extremely down to earth. After the show my friend and I got to talk a bit with Ryan the guitarist at their merch’ table. He was genuinely excited we had made the effort to get to their show and wished us a “safe trip home”. Yes his charming California good looks may have added my speechlessness, but I think I was also still shaking from how powerful their set had been. Every drop in every song felt like falling over a precipice, in the best, most adrenaline fueled way possible. If you are ever able to see this band live, cross-oceans to do it.

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