Review: Local Natives @ 9:30 Club
On the heels of their third studio album, Sunlit Youth, Los Angeles-based indie rockers Local Natives proved why they sold out back-to-back shows at DC’s 9:30 Club. In an indie rock scene where many “bands” are a vehicle for a single songwriter’s work, Local Natives function as a cohesive unit. Frontman duties are shared between Taylor Rice and Kelcey Ayer, but as many as four members sing simultaneously to create the band’s trademark harmonies that soared to the back rows of the venue in every song. Everyone except drummer Matt Frazier played multiple instruments and the energy onstage was infectious. There was hardly a moment when Rice wasn’t dancing, a goofy-but-endearing shuffle around the stage. A steady kick drum kept everyone moving in between songs as the band rolled through a setlist that was a 50/50 split between the old and new.
Early on, Ayer asked the crowd if it was okay if the band played a bunch of new songs, a request that was met with universal approval. From the first moments of Sunlit Youth single, “Past Lives,” it was clear that the crowd had been jamming to the new album extensively since its release last month. Some of the biggest sing-a-longs came with newer material, especially the bluesy “Coins” and the night’s most anthemic number, “Fountain of Youth.” The latter was presented with political overtones, as Rice took a moment to encourage everyone to vote next month and remain positive despite the uneasiness and uncertainty felt around the country in this election cycle. The song’s empowering chorus of “We can do whatever we want / We can say whatever we mean” especially struck a chord with the young audience.
The catchy Sunlit Youth songs thrived in the live setting, but the clear winners were the older tracks from the band’s first two albums, 2013’s Hummingbird and 2009’s Gorilla Manor. The Hummingbird tracks set a different tone than the rest of the setlist, a given, considering the heaviness and somber nature felt throughout the record. Stark black-and-white lighting set the scene for standout track “Breakers,” as Ayer delivered the desperate chorus of “Breathing out hoping to breathe in /I know nothing's wrong but I’m not convinced.” The night’s emotional peak came during the buildup and climax of “Colombia,” a Hummingbird track that sees Ayer addressing his mother’s death. Rice and Ayer started the song alone on stage, eventually joined by the other three members for the powerful second half of the song as Ayer repeated wailed “Am I giving enough?” over heavy instrumentation.
The Gorilla Manor portion of the setlist showcased what made Local Natives stand out back in 2009 when they started gaining popularity. Compared to the more polished efforts on Hummingbird and Sunlit Youth, tracks such as “Wide Eyes,” “Airplanes,” and “Sun Hands” capture a playful ruckus on stage, with extra drumming from Ayer and more breakdowns in the song structures. “Who Knows Who Cares” had every person in the venue (on and offstage) pushing the limits of their vocal chords through the freeing chorus.
On top of the impressive effort and charisma put forth by Local Natives in their own songs, Monday’s audience was also treated to a something the band had never tried before in the encore: a jazzy cover of the late David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Joined onstage by the three members of opener Charlotte Day Wilson’s band, the 9:30 Club turned into a full-on dance party as the eight musicians did justice to the legendary track. During the closing “Sun Hands,” Rice was treated like royalty as he crowd-surfed above loyal fans. In the second Bowie moment of the night, “Heroes” played as the house lights came on, a fitting description of how Local Natives performed. They’re not the biggest band in the world, but they felt like the most important one that night: “We can be heroes, just for one day.”
All photos taken by Veronica I. Proudford for Capitol Sound DC.