Local Natives are perhaps the quintessential Los Angeles indie band.
Like the Pacific Ocean, their sound is breezy and sunny on the surface, but vast and tumultuous below. It's the horn-honking, road rage grind of L.A. city life, alleviated by a weekend escape up the 101 to soak up the serene beauty of Big Sur. It's 1960s Laurel Canyon meets post-millennial hipster outpost Silverlake, indebted to Neil Young, The Byrds, The Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac, as well as their indie rock peers/neighbors like Grouplove and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.
And Friday afternoon, as the sun set over the Santa Rosa Mountains, the quartet had a coronation of sorts in their own backyard. The last rays of the day cast sherbert and metal-blue colors over the sky, only dialing up the beauty of their sound. Over an hour at the Outdoor Stage, the quintet played tracks from their much-buzzed, career-launching debut, 2009's Gorilla Manor, and their recently released follow-up, 2013's Hummingbird. The crowd was sprawling and rapt, running from all sides towards the stage and vying for viewpoints up front, then swaying in silence.
Local Natives' sound on Gorilla Manor was a natural progression from other rhythmic SoCal bands, like Little Ones and Cold War Kids, paired with afropop-styled sounds of Vampire Weekend and the from-a-mountain-top vocal harmonies of Fleet Foxes. But with Hummingbird, Local Natives have hit its sweet spot. Produced by the National's Aaron Dessner, it's darker and more emotionally stormy (Dessner's specialty)—the band's new promo photo even shows the boys wading into the ocean as the waves kick up and ominous clouds gather overhead.
The highlight of their set arrived in the middle: the best two songs from Hummingbird, "Ceilings" and "Colombia," performed back-to-back. "Ceilings," sung by guitarist-vocalist Taylor Rice, is the album's best. Its guitars twinkle like the ocean to a low-hung sun; its bass grooves slow and sexy; Rice's lyrics are beyond apropos: "What would we give to have one more day of sun?" It all cascades down in a truly moving falling melody on the chorus: "Silver dreams bring me down, down, down."
"Columbia," sung by guitarist-vocalist Kelcey Ayer, is the band's most introspective yet. An electric atmosphere builds around the simple piano ballad (again, probs Dessner's work), as Ayer years, "Every night I ask myself, am I giving enough? Am I giving enough? Am I loving enough? Am I?" It's one of those "arms at your sides, jaw on the grass, eyes focused onstage" moments. Guitar enters. Drums build. Ayer's yearn grows in urgency, cracking. That electrical current strikes then disappears.
People say Los Angeles has no weather. Even Damon Albarn praised London's rainy weather for inspiring his music during Blur's set, suggesting the SoCal sun stunts creativity and inner turmoil. Local Natives make a strong argument otherwise.