Photography by Chontalle Musson
I’ll be the first to admit that until quite recently, Local Natives had shamefully drifted somewhat off my radar. I wasn’t sure they were still together and neither did my friend when I mentioned I was off to see them live. “They’re still around?” she asked, looking slightly shocked.
After a quick search, I discovered that they most definitely are, and fourteen years since forming, are showing no signs of stopping. So there I was at the Tuning Fork, with a newly restored interest in the band, keen to see what I’d been missing over the last couple of years.
Our warm-up act for the evening was new talent emergent, Kiwi folk singer/songwriter Sophie Mashlan, who served up an intimate medley of originals and covers with a scattering of storytelling between songs. She stepped into the spotlight with a nervous yet endearing energy that made it hard to not instantly like her. Beginning to pluck away on her left-handed acoustic, the real magic happened when she began singing… Definitely one to keep an eye on!
By the end of Sophie’s set, the Tuning Fork was heaving, the crowd more than ready for the main course. Dead on 9pm, the stage door opened up (held open by a man who bore a striking resemblance to Hagrid), and in funnelled the band, jumping up on stage with a quick wave to a roaring audience, they grabbed their instruments and opened up with Café Amarillo. Obviously keen to showcase some of their latest work, the song builds steadily while Matt Frazier teases the crowd with his delicious drum fills. I will say the intro that seems inspired by Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’.
After giving us a taste of some of the fantastic songs off their new album, Violet Street, we were immediately rocked back to 2009 when the opening riff for ‘Wide Eyes’ burst out from frontman Taylor Rice’s mustard yellow Gibson SG. Both a spectacle for the eyes and the ears, the lighting took a turn for the dramatic, strobing in time with the thumping of the drums. This is the most exciting Monday I’ve had in a while I thought. Swimming in a pristine ocean of sound with reverb-drenched guitars, sipping on a rum and coke, it was enough to make anyone forget the doom and gloom of the day!
Having said that, in a world that seems to be inching towards collapse, their new track ‘Megaton Mile’ offered up an upbeat and almost inviting image of our inevitable end. Intro’d as “A song about the apocalypse” the vocals gave a haunting description of a future dystopia while detuned guitars and crunchy synths helped establish this as the anthem of our own demise. It’s a fun song, and one I’ll be turning up when S*** hits the fan.
As we dived deeper into the set, bassist Nik Ewing showed us he’s a man of many talents. Juggling bass, synth and backing vocals while also progressively discarding garments throughout the night. He had the right idea though, it was getting pretty toasty and I was starting to work up a sweat just watching. As a smaller venue, it was a real treat to experience the band up close and personal. There was clear chemistry between all the guys, especially Kelcey and Taylor – it was like watching two brothers as they shared the spotlight and swapped instruments. The dark knight of the evening though was Matt Hahn, who was accredited to writing a lot of the songs – even having one of them dedicated specifically to him. Apparently, his parents were among us, watching the show too – I’m sure he did them proud.
As to be expected by a band of their calibre the show went off with out a hitch (Other than a snapped guitar string). As the final performance of their tour, the boys didn’t pull any punches. While I came in with expectations to hear their older music, I was really pleasantly surprised by their new work. A bit more pop-y, but enjoyed nonetheless. It’s been nearly a decade since Local Natives unleashed their Americana infused Indie Rock on the world and to be completely honest, it makes me really happy they’re still going strong.