This week's live music has coincided with my familiarisation with a new Arcade Fire record, which has affected the calibration of my critical faculties. Since Manchester is 50 miles from me, I was able to listene to nearly all of Reflecktor on the drive to the gig. Its 80's influences make it less to my taste than the sublime Suburbs, but even so, seeing Breton after this felt like viewing a polar bear in a zoo just after encountering one wandering around on Arctic sea ice. There is some affinity, in that Breton make much use of samples, electronically processed vocals and choppy beats, being influenced by MGMT. Yet, whereas Arcade Fire has unbelievable energy live, the rock band and multimedia collective from Swansea failed to get the venue dancing, or indeed come anywhere near the thrill of seeing a wild animal in its natural habitat.
Cloud Control (pictured above) also aspired to get the audience moving, and almost succeeded in the upbeat Promises from their recent album Dream Cave. We're a long way from the chill of the north with these sunny Australian 3 and 4 part vocal harmonies, and their music has a wonderful sense of airy space. Last time I saw them, I was a little underwhelmed, but in a larger venue they were inspired to play with more subtlety and vigour. They are not lacking melodic hooks, and they're entertaining to watch, but I was left craving greater depth: despite the atmospheric music, I wasn't deeply moved.
Local Natives immediately brought a seismic upwards shift in energy: they gave one hundred percent throughout and their commitment and stagecraft was inspiring. The sound was clear (thankfully after Daughter's issues with balance at this venue earlier in the week), the lighting was imaginative, and a shifting of personnel and instruments on stage maintained interest. I'd seen this highly respected Silverlake band at Coachella in April, and found them enjoyable rather than amazing, but experienced indoors from the front row, it was far easier to appreciate their exquisite attention to detail and the tightness of the ensemble.
Conventional wisdom is that their first album, Gorilla Manor, is the finer of the two. Indeed, Airplanes was the highlight of this show, bringing the warmest audience reaction, and is perhaps their strongest song, movingly inspired by a band member's grandfather. Yet, they were otherwise at their best in the darker songs from this year's Hummingbird. In particular, the emotional Columbia addressed Kelcey Ayer's dead mother: 'If you never felt all of my love/ I pray now you do'. This tragedy and the departure of their original bass player Andy Hamm has let to a more thoughtful, less extrovert second album with sparse guitar parts and hushed vocals.
Despite this change in line up, the band clearly gel as a team, and listening to their harmonies, I can appreciate the comparisons with Fleet Foxes. Hummingbird was produced by The National's Aaron Dessner, who met the Local Natives whilst they were on tour together. The drumming is sometimes reminiscent of them, but after this point the comparison becomes more problematic. I enjoyed songs such as Mount Washington or You and I, but there was neither as charismatic a front man as Matt Beringer, or more importantly as original songwriting. The sound washed over me, beautiful and inspiring, and yet I remained a spectator, moved, but not totally transported.
Local Natives do have an appealingly dreamy quality, aided by atmospheric synths, and their stagecraft cannot be faulted. Taylor Rice got a bemused reaction when he asked if anyone in the audience was dressed up for halloween (here it is only marked on October 31st and is less ubiquitous than in the USA), but I'm happy that he promised not to leave it three years until they return to Manchester. Whilst Reflektor may have spoiled me, I can't imagine anyone left the venue feeling cheated by the performance, and despite my reservations, the music never felt mundane. Recommended, provided your expectations haven't been knocked out of kilter.
Local Natives Set List
- World News
- Wide Eyes
- Warning Sign
- You and I
- Black Balloons
- Mt. Washington
- Camera Talk
- Heavy Feet
- Who Knows Cares
- Sun Hands