Live at Brudenell Social Club on Saturday, 27th February 2010
A certain indescribable atmosphere surrounds Brudenell Social Club. I know I've just made an obvious statement; in fact you'll probably be thinking: 'What's this guy talking about?' and 'Is this guy going to review Local Natives or just the venue?' But I think everyone who's ever been to Brudenell and seen a band play on that stage will agree. It's not a mediocre, generic, city centre space for bands to visit on their rounds of the UK. And it's not just the working men's club which you'd expect it to be on first glance. No, there's something quite unique about Brudenell. Tonight, like every other night I've been here, you can tell that the audience appreciates the character of the venue and they expect to see artists that have the talent and potential to be great. Tonight's show and Local Natives' showcase didn't fail to meet this expectation.
But as with all gigs, there's a support act to fill a void in the schedule. Seven times out of ten though, I don't come away from a gig entirely appreciating the support act's contribution to it, and I think (well I know) I came away from Peggy Sue's set with the same mixed feelings.
For most of it, I admired their clever blend of Laura Marling's quirky eclecticism and Blood Red Shoes' melancholic folk. But there were times when I was attacked by tiredness and was left disappointed by their sometimes generic indie-folk approach. Rosa stood wearing a brown fedora akin to Indiana Jones, but unlike the explorer, Peggy Sue only came across adventurous and original in small doses - it was only their cover of Missy Elliot's 'All N My Grill', which saw them take an altogether different approach to their music.
At the same time though, where their sound was lost in the large open space of Leeds Academy when supporting The Maccabees in October, their colourful, layered harmonies - incorporating everything from an acoustic bass guitar, vigorous drums, swirling accordions, dulcet electric guitars, the scratching of a washboard and even the subtle plucking of a ukulele - seemed to be much more potent in this intimate venue.
Meanwhile, the forceful percussive elements of 'Yo Mama' and 'Watchman' brought to light their musicality and instrumental diversity, whilst Rosa and Katy's majestically entwined vocal harmonies punched their way to the forefront of 'Lazarus' and 'Lover Gone'.
But it's just the picture of indifference on their faces and the lack of interaction they had with the crowd that made Peggy Sue an ordinary rather than an exceptional live band.
For a while now, I've measured how much I enjoyed a gig and the experience I took away from it by trying to find connections. A personal connection between the band and their music. A one-off connection between the band and the venue. An emotional connection between the audience and the band. An individual and stirring connection between the audience and the band's music.
Local Native's performance tonight was unique in this respect. They seemed completely lost in their music; their music fed on the echo of the room, reverberating around the venue; the audience responded in awe to the band's every movement and remained silently entranced by the music. You couldn't say the same thing for 99.9% of other gigs, but you could sense that tonight was special.
It's a sold out gig after all; a surprise to the band (Kelcey exclaims to the audience on more than one occasion: 'I can't believe you're all here'), but not to everyone who's turned out to see them.
And from opener 'Camera Talk', the palpable passion and animation of the band is what's most striking. With its expansive Americana confidently combined with African poly-rhythms evocative of Vampire Weekend, they come into their own, intense and serious, with a sound that would easily lend itself to a much larger venue.
You soon realise that their live performance relies entirely on collaborations; the vocal harmonies that pervade their entire set tonight are just one example. In Ryan, Taylor and Kelcey, you'd be forgiven for thinking there were three lead vocalists in Local Natives; but whilst each is a powerful, individual vocalist in his own right, you never got the feeling that one overshadowed another or that they weren't working together in unison. Because of this, instead of unravelling into a disjointed cacophony as you'd expect, I instead found some of the most powerful synchronised vocals I've ever heard live.
Their entire approach and live sound seemed fresh and imaginatively different, most visible in their cover of Talking Head's 'Warning Sign' - one of the unexpected highlights of the show. Although introduced with very little fanfare, they seemingly gave it a new lease of life; whilst the swooning bass and muscular drums towered peerlessly over the crying vocals, the track loosened up in a live environment and lost any of the rigidity it had on Gorilla Manor. It's not the only time tonight you get the impression a lot of their material's been refined from months of touring.
Lesser known and less vigorous tracks on the record 'Cards and Quarters' and 'Wide Eyes' ushered in a welcome period of calm over the venue, but the audience didn't seem any less transfixed. In fact, it's during 'Shape Shifters' and 'Cubism Dream' that the underlying emotion and sentiment behind their music was most beautifully captured.
But it's the complexity of Local Natives' sound and their distinct DIY ethic that comes out in 'Stranger Things' and 'Airplanes'; the band swap places almost instinctively and grab percussion ad hoc, yet it never looks chaotic or sounds anything less than tight. In amongst their raucous crescendos and equally climactic breakdowns, there's something almost tribal about the urgent beating of drums, buoyant guitar melodies and the distinct chorus hooks which see all five of the band shouting at the top of their lungs. With the climax of 'Sun Hands', the band just seemed to be in tune with one another.
It was at this point that I realised this show had been something extraordinary. It's a clichéd a bit melodramatic, I know, but I genuinely feel that in years to come I'll look back on tonight and boast: 'Yeah, I was there when Local Natives played Brudenell when they were just starting out'. Now if that isn't why we try to discover new music and go to gigs, what is? Go and listen to Local Natives; you won't be disappointed.