Local Natives, Superhumanoids Fitzgerald's March 15, 2013
So...I was one of the three Rocks Off writers sent to cover Local Natives when the band first played Houston in April 2010. On one hand, my perceptions of the band haven't changed much since then; I supremely dig how tight harmonies, rock energy and pop smarts are combined so effortlessly into such catchy results.
On the other hand, the band has definitely grown, changed and evolved (as has its fanbase), so I wasn't sure how the experience would translate.
Well, maybe I shouldn't be too wary of any group that's made such great strides on its sophomore record, even if the move to a larger venue means that more than a few gaggles of loud-talking, fists-in-the-air bros were in attendance. What's important is that Local Natives filled up the sonic nooks and crannies of Fitzgerald's Friday night with aplomb and style.
Superhumanoids opened the show, and the Los Angeles group impressed me with its poppy shoegaze chops. Notably, the strong soprano of Sarah Chernoff knew exactly when to rest on the ground and when to float off into the stratosphere as her bandmates crafted a batch of tunes rooted in New Wave, psych and dream-pop.
The twist to the band's sound is a ready embrace of '80s/'90s white R&B, complete with requisite grooves, syncopation and danceability. Though it was apparent that most of the crowd wasn't familiar with the dark, romantic undertones of the band's debut release, Exhibitionists, it only took a few songs for everyone to really enjoy the music.
Nevertheless, it was obvious that Fitzgerald's was sold out this night because Local Natives had decided to open its tour behind new album Hummingbird in Houston. And over the course of the band's 12-song set and three-song encore, the Los Angeles quintet held the crowd firmly in the palm of its hand. Apart from a few of the deeper cuts on the new record, the assembled throng sang along with Taylor Rice and Kelsey Ayer with full-throated gusto.
In case you've never heard the band, the music is a heady mix of Talking Heads, Television, Grizzly Bear and Genesis -- a.k.a. sharp art-pop with heaps of percussion, impeccable harmony vocals and a bright polish. The lyrical content tends to be rather personal in nature, so it doesn't hurt that many of the songs contain rapturous crescendos that are crisply executed.
In short, you might be put off by all the oxford shirts and boat shoes on the stage and in the audience, but if you're not moved by the heartfelt emotions laid out for all the world to see in such a powerful fashion, then your heart must be made of stone.
Anyway, purple prose aside, I was personally struck by how great the music sounded. As much as I've loved my fair share of punk and garage-rock shows at Mango's, a band like Local Natives needs the sonic space and better-quality sound equipment provided by a slightly larger venue in order for those soaring harmonies and that intricate instrumentation to truly come alive in one's ears.
Furthermore, the crowd just wanted to be there and have a good time -- outside of a couple drunken hecklers, everyone wore a smile on their face as they sang along to favorites like "Heavy Feet," "Wide Eyes," "Warning Sign," "Airplanes" and "Who Knows Who Cares." When the night ended with a raucous version of "Sun Hands" that had everyone dancing, I knew that the band had put on a show that sent everyone home happy and ensured that Local Natives would be returning to Houston in the future.
Personal Bias: So, maybe I've been a little hagiographic here, but aren't we all when it comes to writing about the music of a group we really enjoy? If both bands entertained the crowd for a few hours and the crowd seemed to get more than its money's worth out of the evening, it doesn't behoove me to be a cranky critic just because that's what some folks expect. I had fun, and others did, too. Hooray for good music!
The Crowd: As noted, a few more bro types were in attendance than expected. Also, there was a preponderance of plaid among the men, while the women loved the scarves and boots. So yeah -- a bunch of twentysomething hipsters like you expected.
Overheard in the Crowd: "This song's for DJ Screw." -- Max St. John of Superhumanoids, halfway through the band's set.
Random Notebook Dump: The right-hand side of the balcony bore the sign "Reserved for Professor Snape." Seriously -- check out the sign.
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You and I Breakers Wide Eyes Black Balloons Heavy Feet Ceilings Warning Sign Black Spot Columbia World News Airplanes Bowery Wooly Mammoth Who Knows Who Cares Sun Hands