Taylor Rice, left, and Matt Frazier of the L.A. band Local Natives perform… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
Introducing new artistic work is scary, especially after early acclaim and a measure of success. Will the admirers follow? Is the magic still there? Was it all a fluke?
Local Natives are in the thick of it right now: On Monday night, the band unveiled a fresh batch of music from its second album, “Hummingbird,” to hometown fans -- and you could feel the tension as the men walked toward their instruments, silhouetted by fog mingling with purple backlight.
In 2009, the five-piece Los Angeles concern put out “Gorilla Manor,” an assured indie-pop debut that featured young souls with confident, harmonious voices catching melodies and riding them like Huntington Beach waves. They structured this vastness within the pound of head-nodding tom-tom rhythms and mellifluous choruses.
In the intervening years, Local Natives gradually, deftly built their audience while mastering the art of performance, earning a devoted fan base eager to moan along to the act's many wordless, minor-key vocal lines and cascading melodies. The band gigged the festival circuit, won more ears, licensed tracks for high-profile ads, ultimately selling more than 100,000 records. Alongside Best Coast, No Age and Warpaint, Local Natives have become a prominent, assured voice of contemporary Los Angeles rock.
Three years is a long time in the life of a young band, though, and apparently, much pressure has accrued, because moments into the beginning drum pound of the opening song, “Breakers,” on Monday, the sound of expelled energy pushed through the Fonda with dense force.
A few days ago, off Portugal, a stunt-surfer rode a 100-foot wave. On Monday near the California coast, Local Natives created one, and then another, and then another.
“We’ve waited for this for so long,” singer-guitarist Taylor Rice, a sparkle in his eyes and a smile below his well-trimmed mustache, told the sold-out crowd, and although he was no doubt happy to reconnect with the community, he also seemed to be referencing the thrill of presenting “Hummingbird.”
A grand, expansive shot of art rock whose most obvious touchstones are Radiohead’s “The Bends” (for the meandering guitar melodies and vocal gymnastics) and Talking Heads' “Fear of Music” (the rhythms and angular introspection), “Hummingbird” offers the portrait of a band founded by high school friends flourishing as they learn not only about sound but also the space in between, and the myriad ways to connect the two.
Throughout the night, the band bridged sound and silence with delicacy and patience. One highlight, the gentle, profoundly emotional “Colombia,” had singer-multi-instrumentalist Kelcey Ayer wondering about the depths of his charity: “Every night I ask myself, ‘Am I giving enough?',” he sang in rich falsetto as the band offered a latticework of melody in support.
“Ceilings” began with a folk-tinged guitar as Rice sang of tiny sensations -- the feeling of a cigarette between fingers, of staring at ceilings, of second-guessing. The band covered Talking Heads’ edgy 1978 funk-punk burst “Warning Sign,” smoothing out the vocal edges while focusing on the propulsion. They peppered the new stuff with gems from "Gorilla Manor," capping the set with "Who Knows Who Cares" and "Sun Hands."
Early on, a member -- I can't recall which one -- seemed to apologize for the volume of new material filling their set, showing a brief flicker of insecurity. It was a passing moment, though, and far removed from the artistic confidence and maturation Local Natives displayed throughout what felt like a transformational arrival.