As we enter the last few months of 2013, an album released at the end of January still holds strong as my favorite release of the year. I wasn't that fond of Gorilla Manor, the 2010 debut from Los Angeles based band Local Natives, so I wasn't expecting to be floored by their sophomore release. But that is exactly what Hummingbird did to me. No album has been able to supplant it so far in my Best of 2013 rankings, so when a Local Natives show was announced for Metro Detroit, it became a must see.
In this current music environment, I never know quite what to expect anymore when I go to shows. I've seen national acts I thought were creating a buzz play to 15-20 people in Detroit, usually depressing experiences, and bands I didn't expect to draw well play to full houses. It was encouraging to see the Royal Oak Music Theatre pretty much packed for this Friday night show.
Opening the night was Wild Nothing, a band from Virginia whose EP Empty Estate was released in May of this year. Wild Nothing's set drew on an obvious 80's influence, their music is often categorized as a mix of dream pop and rock, but the muddy mix at the Royal Oak Music Theatre didn't do them any favors for those like me new to them. The sound was rather bass heavy and it made it difficult to decipher many lyrics, a problem that would also affect anyone in the building unfamiliar with much of Local Natives' music. Despite that, Wild Nothing's set went over well with the crowd and it was obvious a good portion of those in attendance were familiar with at least some of the band's work.
It took awhile for Local Natives to finally hit the stage, but the wait was quickly forgotten as soon as they burst into "Breakers", the first single off Hummingbird. Accompanied by an impressive lighting display behind them, the five piece exceeded my expectations all night. I was already excited in the hopes I'd get to see most, if not all, of my favorite album of the year performed live, but Local Natives proceeded to cement themselves as a must see band in the future as well, their set was that good.
As I had hoped, they played just about everything off Hummingbird, with "Black Spot" being the only one of the album's eleven tracks not performed. That's a sacrifice I was willing to accept as all of my personal favorites were played, including "You & I", "Ceilings", "Mt. Washington" and "Bowery". I was worried the album's two emotional centerpieces, the ballads "Three Months" and "Colombia" might not make the setlist, but was thrilled to be wrong. "Colombia" opened the encore, a song that moved me like no other in 2013, and it was equally powerful live.
As well as the new material went over, the eight songs from Gorilla Manor in the set received an even bigger reception from the crowd. Considering this was the first time Local Natives had headlined a show in Metro Detroit, the reaction was not surprising. And as I had hoped, material I was not as receptive to on record sounded much stronger live. Local Natives is one of those bands that improve on already excellent studio material in a live setting and the Gorilla Manor material blended into the Hummingbird songs perfectly. Highlights included "Wide Eyes", "Airplanes" and a scintillating, extended finale of "Sun Hands" that had the entire crowd in the palm of the band's hands, singing along and pumping fists, with a few brave souls even crowd surfing.
It's easy for a band to bullshit their way from the stage to a city about what a great crowd they were, but the reaction from Local Natives on this night seemed purely genuine. Earlier in the set, Kelcey Ayer reminisced about a small show the band played a few years ago in a dumpy Detroit club in front of a few people, and it was clear the band had no idea what type of reception they would get on this night. Their numerous words of thanks showed five musicians overwhelmed at the love sent their way from Detroiters, on a night that should insure this isn't the last time we'll see Local Natives in this area.