Free At Noon Flashback: Philly’s first look at the Local Natives of Sunlit Youth

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Local Natives | Photo by Sydney Schaefer for WXPN | sydneyschaeferphotos.com

It’s no question that Local Natives have evolved. As the LA indie rockers played their recent single “Villainy” at Friday’s Free At Noon, an obvious change had taken place — all stringed instruments had been put down. Guitarist Ryan Hahn traded in for an electronic percussion pad, Taylor Rice dropped his guitar for strictly vocal duties, and bassist Nik Ewing switch over to the keys.

Anyone who hasn’t been staying current on Local Natives news might be shocked at such a development. It was those very strings, linked with rich harmonies, that defined the sound of the band’s first two album’s, 2010’s Gorilla Manor and 2013’s Hummingbird. But if you’ve been following the release of tracks from their forthcoming album Sunlit Youth, the on-stage alterations were not just expected, but appreciated as well.

The interest in the new material was obvious. A look around World Cafe Live exhibited the most densely packed crowd the weekly series has seen all summer. When our own Mike Vasilikos introduced the band and asked how many were Free At Noon first-timers were in attendance, he got a decent amount of hands to raise in the air. Heads were bobbing at an increased capacity, and the lights seemed a little more vivid than usual.

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Local Natives | Photo by Sydney Schaefer for WXPN | sydneyschaeferphotos.com

The band commenced with the new record’s lead single “Past Lives.” It was statement that proclaimed they had returned, and even that though things on Sunlit Youth might be a little different, it’s still the same minds behind process. If any reminder of that fact was needed, it was supplied when they followed up with fan favorites “Wide Eyes,” off their debut, and “Breakers,” coming from their sophomore effort. Before the set moved forward, Rice then found it necessary to apologize to fellow lead vocalist and main keyboardist Kelcey Ayer, after he had knocked Ayer’s drumstick out of his hands earlier. Ayer responded by jokingly calling him a saboteur.

That kind of playful camaraderie is essential to Local Natives identity. Gorilla Manor was not only the name of their first record, but also what they called the Silver Lake home where they created each of their first two LPs. This time around, they traveled the world to find creative inspiration in places like Thailand and Nicaragua. No matter what their location, the band has been able to work with a chemistry that is apparent in their live work. From their harmonies displayed Friday came a feeling of a bond that has only grown fuller as they’ve continued creating over the years.

After moving through a second half of their performance that included classics “Heavy Feet” and “Airplanes,” as well as the unreleased “Coins,” the band concluded the on air-portion of the set with last week’s single “Fountain Of Youth.” Aside from the extra off-air encore rendition of “Who Knows Who Cares,” this was the perfect way to end it. If the previously played new songs didn’t sprout excitement for what’s to come from Local Natives, this one surely will. Lyrics aside, it’s a song wrapped in a vintage Local Natives sounds but jolted with another level of energy that surpasses anything from eras past. But lyrically, this track sticks out as just what the world needs. Rice asked for a moment of silence to honor those affected by the Bastille Day tragedy in Nice, France, and then sang words that tried to reassure us that even though at times it can seem like everything is crumbling, we can be the ones to leave a positive mark on our world.

Whether “Fountain of Youth” can leave a mark on the minds of society remains to be seen. After all, to the public it’s only a week old. But based on the encore-requesting roar that led Local Natives off — and then back onto — the stage, to say it left a mark on those in attendance today is a safe assumption.

Local Natives will return to Philly on October 19th to headline Electric Factory, when they’ll be touring in support of Sunlit Youth, out September 9th on Lorna Vista Recordings/Infectious Music. More information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. 

Setlist:

Past Lives
Wide Eyes
Breakers
Villainy
Heavy Feet
Coins
Airplanes
Fountain of Youth

Encore:
Who Knows Who Cares

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