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Local Natives @ The Riverside Theater

March 22, 2013

Mar. 25, 2013
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Erik Ljung
Last time I checked, Independence Day was still a long way off. But this weekend, there were fireworks. Indie rock dynamo Local Natives met a frenzied capacity crowd Friday night at the Riverside Theater, with explosive results. In fact, the crowd was so uninhibited, and the venue so beautiful, that the band responsible for giving us two albums intended to inspire awe appeared at times to be in awe themselves.

The charged house seemed to galvanize the L.A. group known for its ornate, widescreen indie rock. They cranked up the intensity Friday, sounding fiercer and heavier than on record. At its worst, the performance was almost overwhelmingly dramatic; at its best, breathtakingly bombastic. At times—like during the theater-wide sing-along that closed out “Who Knows Who Cares”—it threatened to blow the Riverside’s ornate ceiling right off.

The set drew heavily from Hummingbird, the band’s sophomore effort released in January, but most of its highlights—including “Wide Eyes,” Talking Heads cover “Warning Sign,” and closer “Sunhands”—came from 2009’s Gorilla Manor, which has obviously had more time to sink in.

Compared to the recordings, which are carefully arranged and balanced, two elements stood out more than the rest during the live set: vocal harmonies and percussion. Of the five members, three contributed heavily to vocal duties: guitarists Taylor Rice and Ryan Hahn and keyboardist Kelcey Ayer. Their cascading harmonies and buoyant “oos” and “ahhs” were usually the most interesting thing happening on stage, challenged only by the hyperactive drumming of Matt Frazier, whose clinical, machine-gun-like beats propelled many of the songs. Occasionally Ayer would double Frazier’s playing on a drum/cymbal combo set up next to his keyboard to great affect.

The band worked swiftly through the 15-song set, smartly avoiding emotional overload and winding down as the audience peaked with hysteria during encore numbers “Who Knows Who Cares” and “Sunhands.” And while it wasn’t extremely talkative, everything the band did say was flattering. They praised the beautiful Riverside, admitted it was their first time in Milwaukee, and claimed it was so far the best show of their tour, a lengthy international affair that began this month and stretches into November.

To be honest, I’m not a big Local Natives fan, and Friday’s set, as astounding as it was, didn’t necessarily convert me. What continues to impress me, though, is Milwaukee’s voracious appetite for live music. This show was moved from the Turner Hall Ballroom to the Riverside on a night where there was also Frightened Rabbit at the Pabst Theater to compete with. A time when we can enjoy our music with shorts, shades and a cold one is coming, but as Local Natives found out Friday, Milwaukee loves fireworks year-round.


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