What a difference a year can make. It was about 13 months ago that Local Natives were playing to empty rooms during SXSW. The only way that could happen in Austin now is if the band decided to tour under the name Creed.
If the band’s free in-store performance at Waterloo Records was to be an indicator, Antone’s would be packed with eager fans. The show was, in fact, sold out, as was their Dallas show the previous night.
When Suckers took the stage, the venue was halfway to capacity and it was clear the band was thankful for every warm body watching them. Drummer Brian Aiken was the first on stage and began hammering away a catchy beat as guitarists/vocalists Quinn Walker and Austin Fisher and bassist Pan took the stage and began layering on their respective parts.
The drum solo segued into one of the songs on the upcoming album Wild Smile, “Before Your Birthday Ends.” Walker’s falsetto carried the songs verses into catchy “ooh and ahh” choruses and the song ended with spaced out guitar riffage.
There were times when the entire band was singing, times when Pan put down his bass in favor of a trumpet and times when Aiken pulled double duty playing drums while banging the keys of a microKORG synth.
The set closed with “It Gets Your Body Movin’,” also from their upcoming debut. Walker and Fisher’s vocals had a Wolf Parade-esque feel to them as they shouted the mournfully catchy refrain “Oh, it gets your body movin’,” like a bunch of emo kids listening to an LCD Soundsystem remix of a Bright Eyes song. The song slowly climaxed into an avalanche of distorted guitars, bass, drums and…whistling. Yes, Walker had a whistling solo in the middle of the song, which felt a bit gimmicky but it’s hard to hold it against a band whose members wore Ziggy Stardust makeup.
The song eventually devolved into the same beat Aiken began the set with, giving their time on stage a nice symmetry. Friday night was a great introduction to this band of psychpop freaks and it will be interesting to hear what the future has in store for them.
Local Natives seem to be caught between two worlds right now. They sold out a venue in the “Live Music Capital of the World,” but they still sound-checked their own instruments. They refrained from using some guitar tech peon to do the work for them as the soldout crowd watched them tune their instruments and ask for more of this or that in their monitors. The fence that they currently straddle divides the moderately successful indie bands from the Spoons and Grizzly Bears of the world. For those familiar with the band’s music, there is little doubt about which side they will end up on.
So the band walked off stage and minutes later came back on to begin their set with “World News.”
Ryan Hahn, Taylor Rice, Kelsey Ayer and Andy Hamm nailed their vocal harmonies throughout the set as well as they do on the album. The band’s musicianship was made more impressive by the amount of energy they displayed. At times, it was hard to tell whether Hahn was flinging his guitar around or if his guitar was leading him around the stage like a man possessed.
The crowd began roaring before Hahn could finish the third note of “Wide Eyes”‘s opening guitar riff. Once again, the band was spot on. Unfortunately the sound guy at Antone’s was not as precise, as the speakers began feeding back. The problem persisted through most of the set and lessened some of the more impactful moments of the songs including the fantastic vocal hook of the Talking Heads cover “Warning Sign.”
Moving through the crowd was an unbelievable hassle, but that’s the price you pay to see a band that garners as much praise as Local Natives. Between “Camera Talk” and “Cubism Dream” I found a spot that met my fancy and decided to post up for the remainder of the set. The two diminutive 40-somethings behind me had different plans and asked me to move before I had been in place more than five seconds (for those who don’t know, I’m 9’3″). I was forced to stand next to a trash can where one concertgoer was bent over, presumably from enjoying one too many cocktails. In spite of the man behind me providing his own sickly soundtrack to the show, Local Natives were no less enjoyable, closing the set with “Stranger Things,” “Airplanes” and “Who Knows Who Cares.”
The final breakdown of the band’s encore, “Sun Hands,” nearly caused a riot as the crowd formed a strange indie mosh pit of flailing flannel and sweaty tank tops. The band exited the stage one final time, and for nearly 10 minutes afterward, the crowd chanted “one more song, one more song, one more song.”
I couldn’t have agreed more.
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