All photos by Andrea Domanick
Indie rock giants Local Natives don’t really have casual fans. Generally speaking, people will either evangelize them, or scratch their heads, wondering what all the fuss is about. They key, it turns out, is seeing them live.
I arrived for the quintet’s surprise Friday night show at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery certainly a fan, but one whose present interest in Local Natives is mostly residual of listening to “Warning Sign” over and over again in high school because I overheard my crush talking about them once.
Around me, those lucky enough to snag tickets through superfan channels hurried into the 300 person-capacity venue. The band hasn’t played a show that size in years—not since before their 2010 breakout Gorilla Manor, and especially not in their hometown of Los Angeles—so the intensely intimate space would make for both a real treat and a very, very sweaty experience.
The occasion for the surprise would be the band’s first performance of new material from their as-yet-unnamed forthcoming follow up to 2013’s Hummingbird.
Opening with “Past Lives,”—their first single in three years, released just last week—the band expanded on the layered, soaring vocal harmonies the outfit is known for, inviting everyone in the room into the hidden world they’ve been building in the studio.
Trying new material on a crowd, even one made up of superfans, is always a risk—it kind of zaps the fun out of everything. Obviously it’s a privilege to be among the first to hear new music live (or in last night’s case, being the first to hear half of an unreleased album), but in general it’s pretty awkward to be standing there with your mouth shut because you can’t sing along, or trying to bob your head along with how you think the song is going to go, but it usually doesn’t, and then you just end up awkwardly shifting around like you can’t keep rhythm.
Lucky for Local Natives, that’s far from how things went down. Sure, they threw in some hits, and people lost their shit—guys raised their arms to air-drum the intro to “Wide Eyes” atop their friends’ heads, and strangers grabbed each other and sang “I WANT YOU BACK” in each other’s faces during the chorus of “Airplanes” (including one girl who twirled me around out of nowhere, something I’m not sure I usually would have liked, but the vibes in the room were so unapologetically excited and amiable that I twirled her right back).
Each new song—there were eight out of the 15 they played—flowed seamlessly into the rest of the show. People were just as amped for “Dark Days,” a new track rife with detailed synth layers that frontman Taylor Rice described to the crowd as a nostalgic look at his love for gloomy days and feeling out of place growing up in Southern California, as they were for “Breakers,” “Ceilings,” and “Heavy Feet,” all favorites off of sophomore release Hummingbird.
“This album was really, really formed by being here and being in this city,” Rice said about writing and recording in LA. “This is the place to be right now for anything you want to be and anything you want to do.”
The band then dug into the powerful, percussion-driven “Masters,” a new track that sounds like something Local Natives might play while heading into battle, and the crowd reciprocated the energy radiating from the stage cast in dramatic red lighting.
The guys shouted out fans in the room who had been there from the beginning, when they played their first shows at Spaceland (now the Satellite) in 2009. As an LA kid and a frequent Satellite-goer, the thought of catching Local Natives cutting their teeth in a club that small kind of blew me away, and for a moment felt washed in pride for the homegrown heroes.
Back then, Local Natives helped lead a new wave of indie rock, shaping a robust, big-sound aesthetic for the genre and serving as a gateway band for kids like myself who were just discovering it. The new material still grasps onto those more experimental aspects, like multi-layered harmonies, Afropop-inspired rhythms, and more use of electronics than we’ve ever heard from them before, but thankfully eschews the realm of cheesy, chanty, anthemic alternative rock (think Foster the People, Imagine Dragons) that their then-peers have since delved into.
Local Natives’ new material is decidedly more approachable to those who maybe aren’t so into the sing-songy, Fleet Foxes-esque side of things, either. They’ve outgrown their own brand of understated folk, and graduated into more sophisticated sonics: Think more Radiohead or late-era Spoon than Edward Sharpe. New songs like “6’10” and “Villainy” offered up aggressive percussion, boisterous guitar riffs and solos, and incorporated electronic undertones to make for a sound that’s both fuller and more nuanced. Local Native are still making music for those original fans, but the band has grown up along with them. If Friday was any indication, the new record will make for an intriguing listen for devotees and converts alike.
The band closed out with hit “Sun Hands” as the encore, an already-fervently energetic song that kicked the body heat in the room up a notch. Rice crawled out on top of the crowd, surfing over hands as he sang and shouted the song’s anthemic sing-a-long breakdown, and fans swarmed and stomped around him with such determination that the wood floor of the historic lodge felt like it was warping and about to cave in. We were left standing in something of disbelief that the nearly 90-minute show was already over—we wanted more, the kind of set that made you regret all the time you missed catching them live in the past, all the years that I missed out on the magic of Local Natives. Believe the hype: I may not have arrived a superfan, but I definitely left as one.
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Artemis Thomas-Hansard is a writer based in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter.