“I loooooove you!”
“I love you, I love you, I loooooove you!”
Heads swiveled to figure out where the expressions of love kept coming from. The cries were loud, to the point of competing with the sound blasting out of the house speakers. Eyes wandered until they landed upon a young woman standing next to the soundboard. Some amused glances were stolen between friends; the crier was about five feet tall and high on life (or something else) to the point of occasionally losing her balance (I know because she fell into me multiple times). But I think everyone could still get on board with her messages of appreciation.
Local Natives were putting on an incredible show. And the band was only halfway through its set.
On Monday night, June 17, the five-piece indie-rock group from Los Angeles played the Ogden Theatre as part of the Spiral Choir Tour. “We’re here partially to celebrate a record we put out last month,” lead singer Taylor Rice noted early on in the show. Which was true. In April, the members of Local Natives released their fourth album, Violet Streets, a richly textured work that explores settling into adulthood, having made it through the rockier times of their twenties, now building upon those experiences to commit to lovers, friends and ideals that will frame the rest of their lives.
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Local Natives began the show with the first track of Violet Streets, a piece called “Vogue,” which immediately showcased the group’s harmonizing ability, a talent on par with or surpassing that of contemporaries like Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear, and one that’s set Local Natives apart from the beginning.
I actually had an opportunity to see Local Natives close to that beginning in 2011, when I was a student at UCLA and helped book concerts on campus. About a year after the release debut album Gorilla Manor, our student group managed to hire the band — it helped that a few members are alums — to play a lunchtime concert in the quad. Perhaps 200 students came, filling only a small portion of the courtyard. But even with our mediocre sound system and no visual aids, Local Natives blew me away with their energy and tight music.
I hadn’t seen Local Natives since, and I looked forward to what eight years of performances, three additional albums and the full production of the Ogden Theatre would bring. I was not disappointed.
By the second song, Rice was crowdsurfing and belting out the lyrics to an old favorite, “Sun Hands,” his body silhouetted by strobe lights. Then, with a new number, “Café Amarillo,” sandwiched in between, the bandmembers performed a couple of the more volatile tracks from their 2013 album, Hummingbird, with keyboardist and vocalist Kelcey Ayer occasionally switching in on lead. The earnestness broke our hearts before the band built us back up again with some of the innocent idealism of Sunlit Youth (2016). At the line “I have waited so long, Mrs. President,” there were cheers, perhaps some laments. The song those lyrics belong to, “Fountains of Youth,” was released right before the November 2016 election, but things didn’t exactly turn out the way we'd hoped…
And indeed, we were all in it together. Looking around at the crowd, it struck me that most people were approximately the same age as the members of Local Natives — which in addition to Rice and Ayer includes Ryan Hahn on guitar, Matt Frazier on drums and Nik Ewing on bass. I think this lent itself to a natural rapport between audience and band, as though we had grown up and experienced many of the same emotions at roughly the same times. It reminded me of reading Harry Potter books growing up, being the same age as those characters as they approached adulthood, a little wiser, a little less innocent.
And so it made sense for Local Natives to end the main set with the furthest point of the band's journey so far, the standout track from Violet Streets, “When Am I Gonna Lose You.” Before launching in, Rice explained that despite its title, the song is an ode to love, of being so enamored of someone that you can't helping thinking it’s too good to last.
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At this, the young woman near the soundboard screamed out what was by now a familiar refrain, “I love youuuuuuuuuuu! I love you! I love you!”
She looked around quizzically when no one joined her in her chorus, then turned semi-accusingly to the couple next to her. “You’re not helping me!” she said. A guy gave her a hug.
As it turned out, there would be a chance for us all to sing together. In a sweeping rendition of “Who Knows, Who Cares,” from Gorilla Manor, the band finished a three-song encore by turning the microphone back on the audience. The crowd echoed back the “Oh, oh, oh, ohhhhhhs,” of the melody while the bandmembers beamed on stage.
“I hope it won’t be long before we’re back,” Rice said as they departed. I'm pretty sure everyone at the Odgen felt the same.