Local Natives at The Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth (13/02/2013)

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Balthazar, a Belgian pop/rock group, served as the opening act. Their first number saw them jumping around the stage with frantic energy, but this energy seemed to conflict with that of their music. This sums up my first impression of the Belgian group, I just wasn’t sure of them. The grainy lead vocals were reminiscent of Bob Dylan, yet the rhythm driving the band was immediate. There was an awkward stage presence of the keyboardist/lead singer, with half-hearted fist pumps and a stale gaze extending out of the venue, but this actually seemed very appropriate for the music. As much of an oxymoron as this band were stylistically, they managed to produce an extremely impulsive and vibrant atmosphere which, albeit being slightly repetitive occasionally, invited many audience members to dance along. Their closer, ‘Blood Like Wine’, ended with a provocative chant that willed audience members to “raise a glass to the night time”. Balthazar’s music is interesting at the very least, but for the most part would be more enjoyable off stage.

Local Natives exploited the more pensive qualities of ‘You & I’ to ease us into their set. The song is the opening track of their latest album Hummingbird and thus fittingly introduces us to a band with an evolved sound. Both Kelcey Ayer and Taylor Rice’s vocals gave us the impression that this performance was going to be on point (despite Ayer saying he was a bit ill).

‘Colombia’ saw Rice swap to the Microkorg, and Ayer take point with an acoustic guitar and lead vocals. This set up was quite fitting considering the personal attachment Ayer had to the lyrical content of the piece. This song was definitely a high point, with the melancholy building into an amazingly passionate finale.

The one downside of the night was that none of the front row seemed to be very excited to be there. Not to say that the crowd as a whole weren’t particularly enthusiastic as there were frequent compliments with regards to Rice’s facial hair (the cry of “I want to taste your moustache!” is still ingrained in my memory). This was more likely just a consequence of the fact that Hummingbird is a relatively new release, as when the early songs began, so did the nodding and singing. ‘Airplanes’ was clearly one of the most anticipated songs of the evening, it was during this song that even the more uninterested faces decided to join in.

‘Airplanes’ and ‘Wide Eyes’, as well as a few others, saw Ayer join in with the percussion with a floor tom, cymbal, and sometimes shakers. I really appreciated the collaborative spirit of the band, from the vocal harmonies they’re known for, to the additional percussion, to the multi-instrumentality. Four of the members of the outfit occupied the centre stage collectively and this aided in their stylistic and harmonic cohesion. Drummer, Matt Frazier, served no less important of a role in the band’s sound, every track required his meticulous attention and the lighting made sure he had our attention throughout.

Listening to Hummingbird prior to this, I would have been hard pressed to imagine how any of it would’ve felt in person. It seemed much more serious than Gorilla Manor, and the expansive sounds made me unsure as to how it would translate to a live setting. Indeed we were told during our interview with them that they had only just managed to pull off ‘Black Balloons” to the extent they wanted to, and that the night would see their first performance of it. This was much to my excitement as it contains some of the most inventive guitar timbres on the album.

Local Natives proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they could take any song from their newest venture and infuse it with the same vigour of their earlier work. Even the softer ‘Mt. Washington’ (lead by Rice’s vocal and acoustic guitar) felt oddly upbeat in this setting.

The encore was an excellent triplet composed of ‘Wooly Mammoth’, ‘Who Knows Who Cares’, and ‘Sun Hands’. ‘Who Knows Who Cares’ being a personal highlight, featuring some of my favourite percussive patterns from Frazier which sent the song into such dramatic intensity. ‘Sun Hands’ ended the night brilliantly with the almost aggressive chant “And when I can feel with my sun hands, I promise not to lose her again” leading into a tearing guitar solo before finally fizzling out with the soft-again refrains.

Local Natives will be playing at The University of Southampton on the 29th of October, tickets are now available through the SUSU Box Office for £15.50

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