Live: The Hirsute And Bombastic Local Natives At Bowery Ballroom
Your eyes are drawn immediately to the one dude's mustache, a prime accordion-playing/fire-flower-acquiring/bowling-pin-juggling/olde-tyme-bathing-suit-wearing juggernaut, a profound specimen of facial hair in a crowd that knows from same. But otherwise L.A.'s Local Natives are a true collective, no leader and no focal point, a five-man, instrument-swapping whirlwind of jerky guitars, pounding tom drums, and white-funk bass, veering from complex and disarmingly pretty four-part vocal harmonies to Arcade Fire-style en masse shouting. They are way better at all this than you'd expect, though. Put it this way: They do a sad, nervously elegant version of Talking Heads' "Warning Sign," and I, a guy so protective of that particular NYC institution that I once offered to personally pay a local Northern California band $20 if they promised never to cover Talking Heads again, totally approve. ("BAMF"?)
Their grand, much celebrated debut, Gorilla Manor, is restless and knotty and sometimes overly zeitgeist-y (a too-perfect cross between Vampire Weekend and Fleet Foxes -- oh, the joke band-names one could concoct), but its high points are glorious. There's a ton going on in a song like "Wide Eyes": intertwined guitars, a pushy bassline, bonus-percussion cacophony, wordless moans that rise in unison but split almost painfully apart. But it fuses together beautifully live, suitable for both dancing and gawking, both delicate and surprisingly ferocious.
It's one album, sure, and the slow tunes drag a bit (Mr. Mustache, one of a few rotating lead vocalists, does lend some sonorous gravitas), and after 40 minutes or so you've heard all their tricks. Or maybe not: A string quartet (plus trumpet) materializes for grand finale "Who Knows Who Cares," a bombastic anthem not nearly as nihilistic as it sounds; same deal with "Sun Hands," one of their angrier and more "tribal" offerings, climaxing in an everyone-clap-and-scream-along maelstrom plenty bands with way more albums and way more tricks never seem to inspire. They'll do it again tonight. Don't bother shaving.