This gig was sold out weeks ago, and it’s reasonable to assume that there are very few no-shows among those who have tickets. The Scala is absolutely rammed, even during the early stages of support act Balthazar’s enjoyable and enthusiastically received set.
Los Angeles’ Local Natives walk on to the stage to the strains of David Bowie’s Young Americans. It’s a sweet moment of levity whose spell is broken immediately with the start of You & I, the very serious opener from the band’s recently-released second album Hummingbird. Bearded, keyboard-playing lead vocalist Kelcey Ayer sings the soaring melody with furrowed-brow intensity; then, just when one thinks the song is simply going round and round in a pretty little circle, the band breaks it down ominously – only to return with a barrage of soaring, goosebump-inducing harmonies.
Local Natives are masters at this kind of thing: clever twists and turns that transform songs that would have been merely good into songs that are frequently fantastic. The nimbleness of Local Natives’ songwriting also helps them transcend the somewhat derivative nature of their music: they bear the hallmarks of, variously, Fleet Foxes, The National, Arcade Fire, The Dodos and Vampire Weekend. Fortunately, however, the songs are strong enough to render those comparisons academic at best.
If there’s a criticism to be made against Hummingbird, it’s that it lacks the joie de vivre that made Local Natives’ debut album Gorilla Manor such a treat. Fortunately, the first-night energy with which the band perform these songs means that any misgivings about the newer material melt away quickly. Hummingbird cuts Heavy Feet and Breakers in particular benefit from being freed up from the studiousness of the recorded versions. Drummer Matt Frazier might be the star of the show: his skittering patterns recall those of The National’s Bryan Devendorf; on Breakers, his pulsating drum fills simply boss the song.
It is, however, inevitable that the most cherished songs from Gorilla Manor get the best reception. At the start of Airplanes, the crowd mimics the braying noises heard in the background of the recorded version’s intro, before promptly losing their shit when the bass drum kicks in. Elsewhere, the warm-bath harmonies of Who Knows, Who Cares send the audience into raptures, while their most upbeat tracks – the evergreen Camera Talk and a cover of Talking Heads’ Warning Sign – are greeted with committed head-nodding, if not outright dancing.
The next time Local Natives come to London they’ll be playing the comparatively cavernous Brixton Academy; on this form, they’ll have no trouble filling it – either with audience members or with their huge-sounding, universally-appealing music.