It’s been seven years since Los Angeles’ Local Natives emerged in the world of indie rock with Gorilla Manor, the debut that shone with a youthful happy-go-lucky excitement. This was followed by the emotionally intense, heartfelt LP Hummingbird, making them one of the most discussed bands of 2013. Over the years, they’ve been consistently evolving and mastering their sound by implementing new influences and exploring different songwriting approaches. The result is their third studio album, Sunlit Youth, and with it, an extensive tour.
Fresh from the U.S. dates, the five-piece arrives in London to play a sold-out show at Camden’s KOKO. “London was the first city outside of LA that loved us,” recalls vocalist and keyboardist Kelsey Ayer, referring to the NME Radar Tour days when they were still building their fan base.
They start with their first single since the Hummingbird era, “Past Lives.” “Save me / From the prime of my life,” sings Taylor Rice, an established frontman presence, setting the mood for themes of embracing change and turning past struggles into future resilience explored in Sunlit Youth.
Tonight isn’t entirely a Sunlit Youth showcase, though, as Local Natives deliver past gems like “Heavy Feet” and “Airplanes” to the eager crowd. The fans are especially delighted at the chance to sing their hearts out along the beautifully cathartic, layered harmonies of the chorus in “Wide Eyes.”
To see it with my eyes, my own eyes
Scattered throughout the show is the new material, and it goes down strikingly well. Synth-laden “Villainy” sounds electrifying in a live setting, while the pace is slowed down with the latest single “Coins,” revealing mastery and a complete control of their instruments. They’ve brought guests; Moses Sumney joins the stage to unleash his extraordinary, soulful voice for “Jellyfish,” while London-based Tusks fills in for Nina Persson in “Dark Days.”
The emotional peak of the show comes with “Colombia” from Hummingbird. Only Ayer and Rice remain on stage, each illuminated by a halo of light. Trading verses with Rice, Ayer mourns the loss of his mother. His angelic voice, combined with soul-crushing words, couldn’t have left anyone in the audience unmoved.
Towards the end of the night, the more politically charged side of Sunlit Youth begins to unfurl. The progressive messages kindle a sense of timeliness and immediacy, encouraging awakening to what’s going on in the world and realizing it’s in everyone’s power to foster change. “Masters,” one of the record’s best, addresses social issues with its gender politics-minded tone. Rice announces that a portion of tonight’s ticket sales will be going to a charity for gender-based violence. The band reassembles on stage for the encore and rebounds towards an eloquent and triumphant finale with an extended version of “Sun Hands” with Rice finally descending into the crowd.
Local Natives have come a long way since their West Coast days and past the existential crises of the Hummingbird era. As they expand their musical confidence with each record, they present themselves as a rejuvenated band unapologetic for their self-assured optimism. Their memorable performance at KOKO on Wednesday night demonstrates that they’ve already built a loyal fan base while they continue to win hearts and minds wherever they go. It’s exciting to see where the future will take them. They’re unafraid to express exactly what they feel – after all, in a world where nothing is static, and in the midst of chaos, hope is our best bet.