In Local Natives’ track, “Airplanes”, the band desperately cry, “I want you back!” And Salt Lake agreed. Local Natives played Kilby Court years ago when they had a much smaller following. But now several thousand fans were singing the same chorus right back to them.
The opening band, Unknown Mortal Orchestra took the stage. The American/New Zealand hybrid specializes in tight, lo-fi, psychedelic rock grooves. To date they have released two albums, a self-titled debut and II. Both albums received critical acclaim and were garnered with tracks that received cred in small indie circles, including “Ffunny Ffriends” and “From the Sun”. They began playing, effects pedals in full force as the lead singer Ruban Nielson bent and distorted his voice into a gritty, muffled sound. They opened with “Opposite of Afternoon”, a fairly subtle studio track, but to my great surprise, as the song went out live, the drums became more complex than they were on any studio recording.
The three piece band wasn’t in-your-face; they didn’t feel the need to be pushy with their music or invite the audience to sing or dance, their raw talent alone caught everyone’s attention. An older gentleman next to me leaned over at one point and inquired, “I don’t even know who this band is…They’re really good! Who are they?”
The crowd who had been nodding to the beat of the music, stopped in their tracks and watched in awe as the drummer, Riley Geare, continuously sped up into a drum solo that defied all physics. Everybody stared on at him; to say that we were impressed would be the understatement of the year.
The drummer wasn’t the only musician to prove his skill. On several songs, Nielson shredded on his guitar, with high paced, grungy guitar solos blasting out over the growing crowd. As notes got high, Nielson’s face would contort and he would stand on his toes and stretch, as if to literally reach for the high note that was perched in the clouds. When they played some of their more well-known songs, such as “Ffunny Ffriends”, “From the Sun”, or “Jello and Juggernauts”, the portion of the crowd familiar with them would cheer loudly, and the portion of the crowd who didn’t know them soon wanted to know them. However, after what seemed like only a few minutes (but had really been an hour), they bid us farewell and welcomed Local Natives, to which everyone applauded with excitement.
The stage was prepared for Local Natives, a five piece band from Los Angeles, who gained a large following with their release of their Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear-esque debut, Gorilla Manor, and their more mournful and dense sophomore release of 2013, Hummingbird. Known for their elaborate harmonies, complex arrangements, and catchy melodic lines, they were a rather big name for this year’s Twilight Concert Series lineup. We eagerly awaited their entrance. As the band entered the stage, the crowd roared with delight and I heard a glorious sound – the familiar cracking drum beat of their hit “Breakers”.
The keyboard player, Kelcey Ayer, used the extra drums to add an extra layer to the beat, including the crack that came when he slammed the side of the drum with the stick.
From the get-go, their angelic voices rang throughout the park and left the attendees in awe.
They played a couple more songs, including “World News”, when about half the crowd began jumping to the music. Eventually, Rice stepped out and asked if he could play a cover. The Local Natives fans in the audience knew what this meant: “Warning Sign”, their excellent cover of a Talking Heads song by the same name. The first verse was sung without instruments.
Earlier in our interview with Rice before the show, he mentioned what a big fan of David Byrne and The Talking Heads he was. Their cover uncracked some of the musical influence Byrne’s later music had on the band.
With their beautiful A Capella harmonies, they stunned the audience into quiet submission.
And as the chorus erupted with a burst of instruments, we all screamed in jubilation at the beauty of it. Soon thereafter, they played “Mt. Washington”, one of my personal favorites of theirs, and sang a celestial four part harmony. Around this time, unsurprisingly, the crowd-surfing began, as everyone melted into the music.
Rice once again asked if he could play a cover, but this time most of us were a little confused. He went on to explain that they were going to play an unreleased Johnny Cash song, called “Out Among the Stars”, which was part of a short film about Johnny Cash and his unreleased music with Brandon Flowers and Father John Misty (Local Natives plays at 11:08). The stage setup was altered slightly to include a mini-synth and a sequencer, which Ayer would use to mumble what sounded like distorted space transmissions.
We were all enthralled by the pulchritude of the song and the elegance with which Local Natives played it. Upon conclusion, they lamented that it had been about three years since the last time they had been to Utah and how grateful they were to be here, because it was long overdue. They had worried that they wouldn’t get a chance to tour here, and even mentioned that it was somewhat miraculous they were there, because they are currently in LA working on their third album. This announcement was rewarded with the enthusiastic support of the Salt Lake City crowd, who cheered wildly for it.
The chemistry between the band and the audience was apparent when they sang “Camera Talk” and the mass of fans belted the chorus along with them. When the band walked off the stage, everybody yelled for an encore. As time passed, seconds, minutes, years…..we started to wonder if maybe the band wasn’t coming back. “One more song!”, the chant went on and on. The stage crew began to pack up the set, and
I heard someone near me say “You can’t leave without playing ‘Sun Hands’!” After what seemed like an eternity, they finally walked back on stage to be greeted by a wild cacophony of joyous shouts.
“We have a few more songs to play for you guys!” Rice announced. Though some minor instrument changes had occurred up to this point in the show, I was astounded to see that they are all multi-instrumentalists – Rice, Ayer, Hahn, and Ewing were all freely changing instruments with each other! Ayer sang lead vocals for the first song, “Columbia”, and started getting emotional, because it was written about a good friend of his who had died.
We all started laughing as we saw somebody dressed in a spiderman suit start crowd surfing; it was a good time to be had by all. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and the third song of the encore would be their last. “This is our last song, you guys, so give us what you’ve got and we’ll give you all that we’ve got!” The familiar clacking of the drums in “Sun Hands” began and everybody screamed excitedly. The music began to get quiet in the bridge before their famous incantation, and the band dragged it on. I groaned with a few others as we all thought “Let us shout it, already!” But we had to wait, Local Natives was teaching us patience. Intimately attached to the crowd now,
Rice put his guitar away and began wrapping up a long microphone cord, after which he dove into the crowd and surfed as he sang.
And finally, the moment came; everybody in unison bellowed “AND WHEN I CAN FEEL WITH MY SUN HANDS, I PROMISE NOT TO LOSE HER AGAIN!” The music broke down into a loud plethora of guitar shredding, drum smashing, keyboard playing madness, and all inhibitions broke lose as the crowd jumped and slammed every which way. While I don’t normally enjoy everybody going nuts in a crowd, I found myself participating. It just fit. The energy was too much to contain in our bodies, as the song became a moment of pure transcendence. Local Natives didn’t feel from LA, they felt as Local as their name implied, like Salt Lake had been their home all along. With a promise that they would be back as soon as they could, they left the stage and an air of amazement settled over the crowd, who were busy gawking at the wonder of it all. Legend has it that the shouted chant of Sun Hands is still echoing in the sky above Salt Lake City to this day…
All Photography by: Jane Groom