On the second of a three-day stint in New York, Local Natives took the stage at the Bowery Ballroom without fanfare or pomp. Each member of the band went straight to their respective instruments, ready to play for the packed room. As the applause surged from a unified crowd, one bellowing voice ascended the vocal melee with a shout, “mother fuck, yeah!” Taylor Rice, lead vocalist for the band, looked up and smiled beneath a heavy mustache.
The smile was brief, and the band quickly got down to work, laying the synthy foundation for Kelcey Ayer to break into “You and I,” the first song on the band’s sophomore record, Hummingbird. His voice, which has moments of weakness on the record, is stronger and more affecting live, thanks in part to the support of his band mates and, perhaps, the influx of adrenaline.
As Matt Frazier, the band’s percussive backbone, hammered away at his drum kit without a spotlight, Ayer drew the crowd in with his emotional vocal tremor. Local Natives then initiated an immediate segue, launching into “Breakers,” the first single off of the new record. “Breakers” allowed the band to loosen up as they moved around the stage to find a bit more confidence and familiarity. As Rice hunched over his guitar, he held the active stance of a fighter, hopping back and forth on his toes, ready to deliver or take a hit. As the percussion grew louder, the four original members of the band and their borrowed bass player moved with the music with Frazier in the back and the remaining members positioned in a perfect line, from shortest to tallest.
After a triumphant end on “Breakers,” the crowd was charged with a pulsing energy. Rice, the front-man who lent most of the leading vocals to Ayer on Hummingbird, took a brief moment to thank the crowd. As he earnestly thanked the audience for making the show, the dormant Bowery Ballroom disco ball hung over his head and a yellow spotlight settled on his shoulders; he commanded the room with a quiet, soulful presence that first hushed the venue and then brought it to roaring applause. A proper rock star was in our midst.
Local Natives’ “Sun Hands”
With a step backwards, as if to get back into character, and another step forward, he lead the band back in with “Wide Eyes,” a fan-favorite from Gorilla Manor. The audience was ecstatic, belting out each word with nostalgic delight. With the multi-tasking musicians tackling harmonies and makeshift drum kits, and the Borrowed Bassist filling in for the estranged Andy Hamm, their passionate hunger was palpable.
As is the case with all great things, “Wide Eyes” came and went far too quickly, and the band returned to the new record with “Heavy Feet” and “Ceilings,” both of which were delivered with dynamic precision. The effusive harmonies that brought “Ceilings” to its subtle end were well-practiced and tightly delivered, and as Frazier wiped his face and Ayer swigged his water, the crowd was fixatedly patient.
Again, in a symmetrical response to the previous two songs, Local Natives resumed with two tracks from Gorilla Manor. As the band dove into “Camera Talk,” the audience fell into a hypnotic full-body-bob. At this moment, it became clear that, while Hummingbird is a strong (and likely enduring) record, Gorilla Manor has a unique resonance with their fans that’s difficult to trump. The harmonies on “Camera Talk,” combined with the infectious rhythm that linked the band and its audience, garnered a high-energy response from the crowd. The sweat was pouring from their foreheads as they finished, and Rice took a moment to approach the microphone again, saying that the crowd was “far too energetic for New York… It’s good. Keep it going.” From there, with the force of their fans fueling them, Local Natives played their take on the Talking Heads song, “Warning Signs.” The heightened level of energy was sustained as each member of the band, even the Borrowed Bassist and Ryan Hahn, bellowed the lyrics. The breakdown in the song was tightly delivered, and the song seemed to fit each of them like an old shoe. Aside from the sweat, there seemed to be no evidence of strain at all; just pure, unadulterated joy.
Local Natives’ “Colombia”
As if to give the crowd a break, Local Natives returned to Hummingbird with “Black Spot,” and, for the first time since the band had taken the stage, the trance was broken; the crowd began to chatter, lit-up iPhones peppered the crowd and trips to the bar were delegated. While the live version is more anthemic than the studio version, “Black Spot” didn’t have the power to sustain the crowd.
The attention was quickly redirected back to the stage when the first chords of the “Colombia” rang out. With eyes closed, as if in reverence for the late subject of the song, the band began to play the haunting melody. The song, which was written by Ayer in the wake of his mother’s death, was undoubtedly the highlight of the night. The crowd understood the power behind the performance, and the crowd respected it; couples held each other closer, and singles winced at the stage as the electric emotion stung the crowd. Ayer’s performance was raw, as his voice stretched as he sang his mother’s name. Toward the end of the song, an awestruck concertgoer within earshot whispered to her friend “I think my heart just cried.” It may sound dramatic, but it was deeply powerful. For a moment, in the pit of the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, a diverse crowd united in empathetic veneration for a loss that transcends words in the same way the music does.
With a collective deep breath, Ayer proved his resilience and the band recovered from the raw intensity of “Colombia” with a seamless segue into “World News,” the hand-clapping, foot-stopping single that catapulted them to success. Just as it was designed to be, the song acted as a pick-me-up elixir, built on a few staple ingredients of practiced vocals, thoughtful harmonies and layered instrumentals. The band bashfully smiled at the deafening applause that followed, and harnessed the infectious energy as they moved on to a whooping and hollering rendition of another sing-along, “Airplanes.”
Before walking off stage and returning for an encore, the band played “Bowery,” which was symbolic because of the venue, but little more than that. But the looping heartbeat of a revolving synth kept the crowd engaged before the band returned to the stage with “Wooly Mammoth.” With another sweeping statement of gratitude to the crowd, Local Natives lapsed into the hauntingly beautiful, “Who Knows, Who Cares.” The percussion reverberated in our chests as the crowd strained their voices to prove they, too, remembered the lyrics. And, with a dynamic switch in direction, Local Natives concluded the show with a raucous performance of “Sun Hands,” which brought the crowd even closer to the stage. With unrestrained elation and a sort of controlled chaos, the band doubled up on percussion, yelled through the chorus and collapsed over their instruments with each carefully timed crescendo. The cathartic end of a spectacular show.
As the band waved and walked off, the dust began to settle in the spotlights and the stillness of dormant disco ball was disrupted. There was magic in New York that night, and it was contained in the belly of the Bowery Ballroom.
Written by Molly Schreiber
OurVinyl | Contributor