Amidst the hustling crowd of bathroom goers, a buzzing tension grew exponentially within the lamp-filled walls of the Henry Fonda Theatre. A surprising mix of L.A.’s V-neck-laden youth ran circles around the odd number of 40-somethings (and even 50-somethings!) peppered around the darkly lit lobby bar. Local Natives were home.
The folk-pop quintet from Orange County has now claimed Los Angeles as its residence. It was only a full-length album, a “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” performance, a couple plane trips, and some years ago when Local Natives were fumbling around Fullerton shaking off the remains of their ex-moniker, Cavil at Rest. Reinvention is the key to their newfound success. Hollywood now welcomes the prodigal sons it never had.
The urban-inspired projection of Local Natives’ logo pulled away as the stage lights/hanging sheets combination cued the entrance of the group. Imagine a hip Eagles-esque display, with slightly better fashion sense, arranged so that each member (sans drummer) stood at equal distance like a firing squad aiming their instruments at the audience. What are these lads up to? Finally, the band launched into their first couple of songs, including Gorilla Manor’s opener “Wide Eyes,” and suddenly the audience, who at first were a reluctant mess, realized the reason for Local Natives’ meticulous presence.
There’s only a handful of young, West Coast indie acts who possess the ability to emulate their recorded material live and then some. Of course, blending three-part harmonies, manning an extra floor tom and crash cymbal, switching instruments, and guitarist Taylor Rice maintaining a perfectly groomed mustache while doing his best Elvis Costello dance is a challenge in itself. Granted, Local Natives’ drummer Matt Frazier did have some trouble with forgetting the manic thumping and clacking when left to deal with the slower, softer sections – only minor setbacks, indeed.
By the time Local Natives broke into their singles “Airplanes” and “World News,” the apparent cherry on top was the band’s attention to space and ambience. Their harmonies bounced around the mid-sized stage with perfect reverberation. Kelcey Ayer hit his synthesizer-side floor tom with enough force to uplift the most timid of tribes, and even when they switched around their respective roles, these details didn’t dwindle. It became clear as to what really evolved inside Local Natives’9 Orange County “gorilla manor”: mutual musicianship.
Local Natives’ last song, at least before their well-deserved two-song encore, “Who Knows Who Cares” brought about an additional trumpeter and a small string section. “Who Knows Who Cares,” a piano-driven ode to living life, built layer upon layer of four-part vocals, a blasting horn, a cavalcade of oohs and ahs, and delicate violins to an awakening climax worthy of a Sigur Rós seal of approval. The audience seemed to simultaneously forget that Arcade Fire likes to make loud noises and stuff, too.
While nearby audience members continued to gather their faces from the floor, the culmination of claps, cheers, whistles, and screams to provoke an encore mirrored the size of the band’s sound. The firing squad had just killed.