Local Natives get raw and rowdy at The Ford

LA-based Local Natives (who formed in Orange County) played a pair of shows at The Ford on Tuesday and Wednesday. Split into two very different acts, the first celebrated the indie-rock outfit’s sophomore album, Hummingbird (produced by Aaron Dessner of The National), which reached its 10th anniversary milestone, while the second act was a blend of other hits as well as material from the newly-released album Time Will Wait for No One. The two sets offered the rare chance for the band to play longer and also shed some context on the songs that have shaped their lives and careers. It was full of emotional highs and lows, laughter and lighting that did not disappoint. On the audio side, for a band with such effortless harmonies and songwriting talent, it must be stated that the sound was much too amplified on the instrumentation, which sadly drowned out some moments of more clarity on the vocal side. It didn’t seem to faze the super fans, however, who were reveling in the moments.

Hummingbird was played in full on both nights, with harmonies, melody and an emotional spectrum shining throughout the album. The three main vocalists, Taylor Rice (also on keys), Kelcey Ayer (also on keys and guitar) and Ryan Hahn (also on guitar) harmonized wonderfully on a number of tunes including opening “You & I” and “Heavy Feet”, with the the latter’s production whipping into action with more of the purity in the voices heard. “Since we’re doing a whole 10-year anniversary of this album, we thought we’d talk a little bit about these songs,” said Rice. “We are all from Southern California and Los Angeles and we went to New York and Canada after some albums and it was the only time ’cause it was way too cold. We tend to sing about the sun but on Hummingbird we sang about the lack of sun. It was a time of loss and dealing with death and it was a really difficult time. We were all living in this house and I had insomnia and I was staring at the ceiling a lot.” “Ceilings” was the next tune, with Ayer taking hold of the vocal, accompanied by the other two singers harmonizing, along with twinkling guitars and beautiful golden lights sparkling behind the band.

The guys played “Black Spot” for the first time in 10 years, a song introduced by Ayer. “Late 2011, we thought it was a good idea to start a new record in Joshua Tree and take mushrooms and commune with ourselves. Instead, I didn’t know how to do mushrooms yet and got dehydrated and went to the emergency room.” They jammed the song in Joshua Tree and after, “Black Spot” is what came out of it. Smoke and some lights were blinking as Ayer started the quieter vocal, with a light drum beat from Matthew Frazier. The song took on a slightly possessed vocal with mysterious harmonies and picked up with a hypnotic, harder instrumentation from all band members including bassist Nick Ewing. “Breakers” had the head-bopping drumbeat you’d hope for, with Rice dancing for a moment to the indie-rock song.

Ayer spoke with the crowd again about one of the darkest songs, which actually had some hope in the instrumentation. “The album had a lot to do with the passing of my mother in 2011, and not knowing how to deal with grief. The song’s about kind of falling to her and wanting to feel the loss”. He went on to explain that before the release of a song, during the recording process bands often nickname songs —in this case “Ears For Fears” was the fake song name, fitting because Tears For Fears was playing across the way at The Bowl the same night (and were audible during the intermission). Deep bass chords and a simple drum kick started the song with some hopeful, yet dissonant, muddy keys from Ayer, with his falsetto sounding like a cry and Hahn sitting atop the drum riser while playing guitar. The lights went red for the warmer “Black Balloons”, with Rice at the helm of the indie-pop tune with Ayer on hand percussion.

The band gave a shout to drummer Matthew Frazier, who designed the 10-year anniversary artwork and continued with “Wooly Mammoth”, with Hahn talking about driving along to Big Sur, and how he doesn’t like trees. The lights flashed and Ryan’s guitar vamp took hold, as Rice and Ayer led different verses, highlighted by more three-part harmonies that were tops. Psychedelic yet pretty guitar drove “Mt. Washington”, and Ewing’s voice was added to the mix with the other singers, ending with warped sounds after a lively instrumental. Ayer, who is half-Colombian, shared that “Colombia” was created in his mother’s honor, saying, “When she passed, we were all surrounding her, watching her take her last breath”. He added that after that final breath, downstairs in the house a hummingbird had fallen after crashing into a window. It was a powerful moment. The beautiful piano opening from Rice was moving, along with Ayer’s heartfelt vocal, with the two harmonizing. The drumbeat felt like a light heartbeat throughout after the song was explained. “Bowery” was slightly more soulful, with a standout piano theme, a carefree, dreamy energy and a steady drum march.

The second act was slightly different each night, with more energy overall and the first night had a surprise guest on “NYE,” Suki Waterhouse, who features on the new version of the tune. The lively “Past Life” had the crowd finally on their feet followed by crowd pleaser “Coins”, with Ayer on lead and the fans singing and grooving along, plus rapid, spirited clapping at the end. The band mentioned the new Time Will Wait for No One, a good lead up to newer song “Paper Lanterns”, with the band silhouetted with starburst lighting for the groovy number. The next song “Ingrid” was live debuted at both shows, not officially on the album but a bonus track, with Rice oohing, Ayer harmonizing and back on the hand percussion, as bright lights peeked through the darkness, with a memorable drum section. Ryan Hahn was credited for writing “NYE” ahead of playing the stadium-ready anthem, with Hahn on lead and Rice following him for the uplifting indie-pop song. A fan requested “Airplanes” and the crowd was loving it, with Ayer hitting sticks to a drum on his right while singing.

The crowd knew from the drumbeat that “Sun Hands” was up, cheering, clapping and bopping together during the long instrumental opening and Rice kicked it off. Hahns played keys for this one and Ayer was on guitar, and later Rice jumped into the crowd, singing and dancing with fans midway up the aisle, followed by another energetic instrumental. They continued with another new one, “Paradise”, a song Ayer has apparently been working on for many years with rich instrumentation and a pleasant vocal. Local Natives shared that Song Exploder just covered (or broke down) their song “Dark Days” this week, which is kind of a huge honor. The danceable, indie-pop tune had amazing hi-hat, alluring guitar effects and it was simply one of the best of the night. The band mentioned that they love to play in Los Angeles and Rice led “Who Knows Who Cares”, the first Local Natives song. The band’s voices shined the most on ballads, though this one turns to more of a mid-tempo, with all four singers joining in and the crowd echoing. For a brief encore, the lights went blue for perhaps Local Natives’ biggest hit, “When Am I Gonna Lose You”. The four-part harmony was stunning, the crazy good falsetto was in effect and the band collectively nailed it from piano to guitars to drums.

Two other new songs, “Ava” and “Just Before The Morning” were performed on Night 1 only, but a few hundred fans who were lucky to attend Local Natives’ acoustic show on July 11 at Amoeba Hollywood where they were treated to the sweeping ballads.

Words by Michael Menachem
Images by Tim Aarons