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Timothy Finn blogs about the Kansas City music scene

Local Natives get loud, steamy welcome in first visit to Kansas

04/26/2014 12:54 PM

04/28/2014 9:28 AM

A band from Los Angeles performed in Lawrence for the first time, and the locals who filled the Granada theater gave them a rowdy welcome, one that seemed to take everyone on stage a little off-guard.

Local Natives are a five guys from Orange County, Calif., who create ornate and cinematic escapades with roots in indie-rock, chamber-pop and electric-folk. Their sound emerges from the same realm as bands like Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes. It also reminds me of a couple of equally adventurous local indie-rock/pop bands: Cowboy Indian Bear and the late Capybara. When they ignite the gang vocals and bring out the auxiliary percussion, they can stray inside the borders of neo-folk.

It’s music with several influences, lots of moving parts and many layers of sound: drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, electronic additives and sometimes as many as four vocalists. Theirs isn’t Top 40 pop or roots rock. Everything is melodic, but they toy with time signatures, chord progressions and song structure. At times it feels like another song has emerged from within a song, and the lines between verse, chorus and bridge get blurred.

Local Natives are relentless road warriors, and it shows on stage, where they are as precise as they are freewheeling (and their harmonies are lush and tack-sharp). It makes for a dynamic, energetic live show but requires more than a casual acquaintanceship with Local Natives’ two-album catalog.

Yet for most of the night, more than 700 people gave the band their rapt attention and plenty of sing-alongs and raucous ovations. The Natives are touring on “Hummingbird,” the album they released in January 2013. They played several of its tracks during their 90-minute set, songs like “Breakers,” “Black Balloons,” “Ceilings,” “Mt. Washington” and “Colombia.”

But the crowd was clearly more attached to tracks from “Gorilla Manor,” the band’s debut, now more than 4 years old — songs like the jaunty “World News,” which aroused the first loud response of the night, “Camera Talk,” “Airplanes,” “Who Knows Who Cares” and “Warning Sign,” a Talking Heads cover. They tossed in another cover: “Out Among the Stars,” the title track of a new Johnny Cash compilation, which the Natives made entirely their own.

There were reportedly some A/C issues in the Granada, so the place was steamy all night, but the Natives forged onward without complaint They paused to thank the crowd several times, seeming pleasantly surprised at the size of their audience and the volume of its response. Then the parties rewarded each other. The place went volcanic during “Sun Hands,” another “Gorilla” track, and the evening’s closer. Almost everyone in the place shot back the final, battle-cry chorus and then indulged in the guitar freak-out that followed.

Before that song, the Natives promised to return to their new favorite place. Next time no one will be surprised if the place is loud and full all over again.

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