Local Natives’ return to concert stages couldn’t have been timed more perfectly. The indie rock darlings’ 2010 debut album, “Gorilla Manor,” garnered them plenty of attention, but felt lost in the tide of bands like Vampire Weekend and Yeasayer who used similar vocal harmonies and Afrobeat rhythms and amassed larger followings. Following stints touring with indie-rock royalty the Arcade Fire and the National, the Los Angeles band honed its skills for sophomore album, “Hummingbirds.” On the eve of this album’s release, they played to a sold-out hometown crowd, whose anticipation for the return of their beloved band was palpable.
Taking the stage to David Bowie’s “Young Americans,” the quintet kicked off the first night of their tour (and the first of two sold-out L.A. shows) with “Breakers,” replete with complex drum rhythms, bright guitars and soaring harmonies.
Focusing primarily on their new material, Local Natives performed a majority of the songs off of “Hummingbird.” While it isn’t a major departure, the record lacks much of the youthful exuberance and reckless abandon of their debut. Many critics have praised their sophomore effort, which was produced by the National’s Aaron Dessner, for going deeper (tastemakers Pitchfork and NME both gave the album 8/10 rankings), but the material just didn’t deliver the same punch in a live setting as their earlier tunes.
That said, there was still plenty to grab onto, not least of which the album’s opening track, “You & I,” a tender lament to lost love on which vocalist Kelcey Ayer mournfully wails, “I woke up with my green eyes blue, all I think about is you.” Stripped-down ballad “Mt. Washington” also had a lot to offer, and recalled some of the Beach Boys’ weightier material.
While some of the tunes were melancholy, the overall mood at the Fonda was celebratory. “Our new album comes out in two hours, but it’s already out on the east coast so I guess it’s our record release party,” Rice announced just after 10 pm to the cheering crowd. The band played for just under 90 minutes, and threw in a few familiar, joyous romps for good measure, including crowd favorite “Airplane,” which had the whole place dancing and singing.
With extensive tour dates lined up through late spring, including stops at SXSW and Coachella, it’s almost inevitable that Local Natives’ star will continue to rise. Here’s hoping they can recapture that magnetic energy and boundless spirit that attracted that attention in the first place.