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Review: Local Natives warm a packed State Theatre in St. Petersburg with meaningful, memorable melodies



Los Angeles indie outfit Local Natives have steadily gained momentum since their 2009 debut, Gorilla Manor. Some have likened them to the Temper Trap and My Morning Jacket with a sprinkle of Radiohead and Dr. Dog.

Funny thing is, most of my friends have never heard of them. Yet their first show in Tampa Bay, Wednesday night at the State Theatre, was sold out.

They appear rather unassuming: Five guys, a mix of skater, grunge and scene kids, who you’d never guess could send chills across your skin.

And they came out blazing, diving right into Breakers, a poppy pick-me-up jam from their sophomore release, Hummingbird. The crowd couldn’t get enough. Just the beginning riffs of Wide Eyes, a song later, sent fans into a lyric-screaming tizzy. And if you looked closely at vocalist/guitarist Taylor Rice, you could see the pained yet cathartic expression in his furrowed brow as he sang. The words meant something.

Those little nuances added a welcome intensity to their set, as they at times seemed a band of boys who hadn’t quite nailed down showmanship. But that was irrelevant, as their sound came across with studio quality and then some, so the rest was a drop in the bucket.

Much to my surprise, multi-instrumentalist (but primarily keyboardist) Kelcey Ayer, sang the tracks I held dearest. He’s not the face you see when you think of Local Natives, yet he is the powerhouse behind the soaring, impassioned vocals. His tone evoked the estranged love of You & I with seamless ease, and drove home the tender lyrics of Colombia — “Am I giving enough, Am I loving enough” — to a chorus of a few hundred equally questioning voices.

To mix it up a little, they threw in two covers: An almost-as-good-as-the-original rendition of Warning Signs by the Talking Heads, and Johnny Cash’s Out Among the Stars.

Something I overheard from various fans in the crowd throughout the night: “This is my favorite song.” It wasn’t the singles, but instead other evocative tracks that carried the same clout as the popular ones, like my personal tear-jerking favorite, Airplanes.

But don’t get me wrong, everyone lost their mind during the closer and ever-popular Sun Hands. Watching Rice immerse himself into the crowd for a few bars may have had something to do with it. By the end of the song, the packed house became a unification of pulsing bodies bathed in red light, palms up towards the stage, shouting, “And I can feel with my sun hands!”

Behind their melodic grooves are unconventional drumbeats, heavier guitars than synths and varied vocals that shape a distinct sound of inviting, emotional, excitable escalation. It’s the soundtrack of adolescence meeting a new, hopeful and not-quite-broken 20-something generation.

With two albums under their belts, and a clearly defined sound, maybe they just need to be sampled in a car commercial to become an international name. If it happens, they will deliver.

— Stephanie Bolling, tbt*

[Last modified: Thursday, April 17, 2014 5:17pm]


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