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Live Review and Photos: Local Natives, March 31, 2011, UCLA – Los Angeles, CA

“How many of you are cutting class to be here?” came from the stage near the middle of Local Natives 60-minute free set at their alma mater UCLA on Thursday afternoon. The crowd of hundreds answered with a near-unanimous affirmative, which earned the band’s approval and a short story about how they had done the same thing to see shows from artists like Grizzly Bear and Bloc Party when they were at school there.

And such was the spirit of the show. On one hand, it was a proud moment for the band to return to the place they once called home and play a free set. But the other level, beyond the personal importance for Local Natives, was that this was their final Southern California show for what they are calling “a long time.” Yes, the tour in support of Gorilla Manner that has seemed to last forever will be ending in the near future, and the So Cal residents will return home for a much-needed break and to record their follow-up album, which the band said to expect in 2012.

For the student-fans, this was a chance to see a band return fully-realized, whom it seems was sent out into the world with an uncertain future and came back a success. Local Natives has gone from local wonders who performed residencies at tiny L.A. clubs to opening for the Arcade Fire this month. And their music justifies every bit of success they claim. But surprisingly, the band still seems to connect with this older material, even current hit “Airplanes” (possibly the saddest song this side of “Puff The Magic Dragon”) which saw a roar from the audience, similar to the sound that appears on the album version, causing massive grins across the stage. The audience connects to the songs still, too, as they mouthed the words from the front row to the classroom balconies.

Local Natives’ set was probably similar to the set they have been playing for a while, including the Daytrotter version of “Cubism Dream” and a tender rendition of “Who Knows Who Cares.” But the afternoon’s highlight was saved for last, an extended and exuberant “Sun Hands.” But what was most notable about the set wasn’t the sounds to be heard (which were more or less perfect), but to see the interaction and fun that the five-piece has on stage. They have a clear bond when they perform, trading instruments frequently and playing nearly as much to each other as they do the audience.

I say nearly because this free show (their second of the week with the other being at nearby Loyola Marymount University) was one last gift to their fans for the tremendous amount of support they have received from the Southern California community. The band took time for a meet and greet after the set and showed a genuine appreciation that was palpable on this hot day. And as the band goes into their next phase — the recording of a sophomore album — it is this grounded nature that we all hope they keep. Their musical skills and solid foundation in songwriting are a given, but this wild card of being a band you can actually get behind is what makes Local Natives special. And for now, it is a prevalent as their days of tiny club gigs on weekday nights.


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