The thing to remember about Local Natives is that no matter how tender and introspective their lyrics get, or how experimental and weird they are in the production studio, the SoCal indie rockers always show up big for live shows. Their relentless energy was on full display at Saturday night’s sold out Stubb’s concert, as fans who have followed the group for the past decade stood elbow-to-elbow in the sweltering Texas heat for the privilege of jamming out.
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And what a privilege it was! After opening the show with the quietly beautiful “Vogue”—a song that inspired the name of their “Spiral Choir Tour,” lead singer Taylor Rice got the crowd going by leaping into the audience for a bit of body surfing with perennial favorite “Sun Hands,” an upbeat cut from the band’s 2009 debut album “Gorilla Manor.
The evening was split 50-50 between songs from Local Natives’ April 2019 release, “Violet Street,” and popular cuts from their previous three records, including the “Violet Street”-heavy encore. The crowd was clearly more responsive to the older songs, i.e. more singing along and dancing, which indicated—at least to me—that not everyone’s gotten around to listening to the new record yet. You should! It’s just as good!
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A gorgeous set of “You & I,” “Cafe Amarillo,” and “Ceilings” led into the insanely catchy one-two punch of “I Saw You Close Your Eyes,” a 2017 single with an irresistible bass line and, yes, a cowbell!, and “Coins,” the lead single off 2016’s “Sunlit Youth.” The latter song is so popular that the audience members around me called for it again during the encore. Or was it because they didn’t realize it had already been played? The title is only mentioned in the final verse, “Sometimes, oh you know how it feels like, that we’re on the same side, of different coins,” while the chorus is a very sing-a-long-able “How much is enough?” with some good ole’ “oh”’s thrown in for good measure. Regardless of whether people realized what they were singing along to, the track was one of the evening’s highlights.
“We got our start here [in Austin] and you’re our favorite venue in the world,” Rice bantered with the Stubb’s crowd. Mostly, he didn’t stop for air, though, as the group performed 19 songs over the course of the approximately 90-minute show.
From there, the band debuted one of the stronger singles from the new album, the bass-heavy, Motown-inspired “Megaton Mile,” which describes the apocalypse. At least we’ll be dancing!
“Someday Now,” and “Heavy Feet” led into “Fountain of Youth,” a pulsating 2016 crowd-pleaser that includes the line, “I have waited so long, Mrs. President,” which certainly imagined a different 2019 than the one we’re currently stuck with. After two more “Gorilla Manor” tracks, “Airplanes” and “Wide Eyes,” the band transitioned back into new material with “Gulf Shores,” which, like all the best Local Natives songs, begins disarmingly mid-tempo and explodes into a catchy, nearly head-bangable rhythm in between verses. “I breathe in when you breathe out,” Rice croons, aptly, as the beat drops.
The set ended with “Garden of Elysian;” “Dark Days,” a “Sunlit Youth” highlight; and “When Am I Gonna Lose You,” the haunting first single from “Violet Street” that describes Rice’s anxious thoughts about marriage while on a California road trip with the woman who is now his wife—celebrity hair stylist Mara Roszak.
The band returned for an encore with new track “Shy,” a quiet ode to Rice’s disposition that unexpectedly explodes into a wild horn section and epic guitar solo near the end. “Tap Dancer,” the new album’s closing song, was up next—a gorgeous track about wishing you could go back to more innocent days with lyrics inspired by Joan Didion. “Everything was easier before, take me back, before I knew of artificial roses.”
Both are great songs that people in my corner of the audience were definitely not familiar with yet. The real fans are in the front, I guess, but you try shoving your way to the stage at a sold out Stubb’s show.
The group threw it back to 2009 with the sweeping “Who Knows, Who Cares” from “Gorilla Manor,” the final song of the evening. I wished for a second encore with what I feel are Local Natives staples, “Sunlit Youth” tracks “Past Lives” and “Villainy,” but if having too many solid songs to fit into a set isn’t the mark of a great show, then I don’t know what is.