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ACL Fest review: Local Natives

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By Erin J. Walter

Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 11, 2013

If you came to ACL Fest to get groovy with it (hint: are you wearing fringe, neon, and/or a bandana?), then you got your glorious money’s worth on day one thanks to the irrepressibly energetic, emotional Local Natives. Hailing from Los Angeles but veterans of SXSW and last night’s “Austin City Limits” taping, the five-piece cooked up a thoroughly fest-friendly stew of soaring vocals, swirling guitars, pounding drums, and bass/organ underbelly.

Being up against hitmakers Fun. should have been a concern, but the schedule didn’t seem to matter. Scores of listeners, even those well beyond the handicap accessible risers, sang along with every word, and Natives newbies found their hips swaying before they knew what was happening. (There is just something so compelling about an organ player hitting the drums in tandem with the actual drummer. More bands should shake up the traditional instrument assignments this way.)

“This is our last U.S. show of the year,” one of the frontmen announced halfway through the set. “And it’s our first official show with this bass player we’re in love with, Nik. After a year, we had to ask him to officially be in the band.” ACL Fest makes for quite the coming out party. Well played, Nik Ewing.

Local Natives’s love fest continued in the second half hour, with college students embracing during set highlight “Heavy Feet” and dude-bros doing wavey moves with their sleeve-free arms. The music and crowd vibe, if not precisely tribal, certainly felt like the soundtrack to an indie movie about best friends backpacking through a tropical rainforest. In fact, one singer/keyboardist sported a t-shirt with an Earth design that essentially turned his torso into a globe. So far, he wins the award for Most Apropos Fest Fashion.

Closing song “Sun Hands” had a sea of sun-drenched fans bouncing up and down, arms in the air, as guitars squealed and the singers wailed and hit their own bodies in shared, melodic catharsis. Local Natives have toured with Arcade Fire and The National, and it absolutely shows. The band members each bring a high-energy stage presence and brotherly chemistry, and their epic crescendos and three-part “ooh”ing (showcased on anthems like “Who Knows Who Cares”) would be right at home among those headline-caliber acts. Don’t be surprised if Local Natives are a household name this time next year.