Contrary to popular belief, it’s not extremely often these days that a Los Angeles band makes a profound cultural impact on the world. Sure, we’ve got plenty of solo artists, or bands that moved here from somewhere else, but how many bands began here, and also succeed in embodying the culture of the city in their music? For the thousands gathered on a chilly Friday evening at the Greek Theater, it was clear that our very own Local Natives had become one of LA’s true musical monuments.
Preceded by a somber set from young self-producing alternative R&B sensation Charlotte Day Wilson, the audience quickly realized this would be a night of epic subtlety. Never a group for glitz or gimmickry, the five indie rockers entered to a minimal setup on the massive amphitheater stage—no confetti, fireworks or laser light shows tonight, just a pure concentrate of passion and musicianship á la carte. Frontman Taylor Rice arrives donning a long black tunic with his grown hair in full milkmaid braids, prompting Princess Leia references while juxtaposing the androgyny with his trademark mustache. The opening burns slow with “Past Lives,” and “Psycho Lovers,” two cuts from their brand new LP Sunlit Youth, but the crowd writhed in excitement for “Wide Eyes,” and every other track from 2009’s debut Gorilla Manor. Exactly half of the 18-song set consisted of Sunlit Youth songs, and while unconcerned with delivering any kind of visceral thud at live shows, their dedication to moving crowds with a set full of somber ballads was an admirable risk.
Highlights of the set included “Coins,” the latest single and one of many Sunlit Youth numbers that bring a tasteful electronic sizzle to their usual organic sound palette, and “Dark Days,” on which The Cardigans’ Nina Persson made an appearance onstage, having flown all the way from Sweden to bring a long-overdue female presence to the music.
The night’s undeniable peak came during Hummingbird deep-cut “Colombia,” where Rice and co-leader Kelcey Ayer took the stage alone as a guitar-piano duo, and we are reminded that what mainly separates the Local Natives from the average indie majors is the sheer vocal force of these two combined, both hitting every note flawlessly throughout the set. The other members re-enter the stage one by one, joining Ayer for a gutting final crescendo as he delivers the shamelessly vulnerable chorus, “Patricia, every night I ask myself, am I loving enough?” These are the irreplaceable moments that the people of Los Angeles gathered for.
Later on, Rice takes a moment to marvel at the swarmed audience, share the band’s conclusion that “LA is the best city in the world right now,” and notes the direct inspiration the city had on their new album. He announced that one dollar from each ticket would be donated to gender-based violence prevention, and followed the monologue with a performance of “Masters,” the song containing the bold “Are you afraid to call yourself a feminist?” lyric, which was met with swooning cheers.
Delicately as the Local Natives play and sing, they have never feared bluntness. Actually, delicate might be the very last word to describe encore closer “Sun Hands,” as Rice leaped into the pit to sing the entire final chorus mid-crowd surf. Going out on a guitar break that would make their hard rock LA ancestors proud, Local Natives never leave their hometown without a sea of day-one fans craving a victory lap.
Words: Jamie Lawlor
Photography: Danielle Gornbein
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