It happens rarely and it is always a nice sensation to realize to be at “one of those gigs”. Local Natives sold out concert at Hoxton Bar & Grill was definitely “one of those”.
I will always remember the breathtaking Bella Union double bill, Fleet Foxes – Beach House, at the London ULU a couple of years ago. I still have a psych, Cream-like-era poster of that night on my wall and White Winter Hymnal resound in my mind anytime I go back there with my thoughts. That was another example of a memorable “I was there” night. For more than one reason similar to this Local Natives show.
Since that date Fleet Foxes fame went straight to the stratosphere on a rocket. Beach House are likely to follow this year thanks to their charming dreamy-pop, Nico influenced, third album, Teen Dreams.
Let’s not divagate. I just want to make a point.
Fleet Foxes album is accepted as a reference record among the ones which define a genre. As Arcade Fire’s Funeral before and Bon Iver’s Emma, Forever Ago after, it set a new standard. It moved the high-jump bar a inch higher. The consequence of “reference albums” is that the next competitors would have to jump at least as high to stay in the game.
Anyone who writes songs based on vocal harmonies, folky tunes and shiny melodies nowadays, has not anymore Beach Boys and C,S,N&Y to refer to, but cannot ignore beardy Seattle’s favourite.
A fact that turn out to be a bands’ problem. With so many artists jumping on the trendy bandwagon of alt.folk, they have to jump higher. They must record something that is at least as relevant to the new standard appeared before them.
It includes everyone, even the “record” holders. Fleet Foxes have the same, if not bigger, problem on recording their sophomore CD. It’ll be hard to satisfy the huge expectations they outlined with the debut.
Local Natives are from Los Angeles. They join the ever expanding LA alternative scene which looks promising enough to complement and balance Brooklyn tremendous impact on present music.
Local Natives play a folk-not very hippy-rock that you would expect to come more from Frisco than LA. Nevermind.
Los Angeles is many degrees below Seattle in latitude and many above in temperature.
Southern and warmer means not only less beards and no flannel shirts but a sunnier, relaxed attitude drinking beer under blue skies.
As often happens the path of the success for an emerging band goes: USA (somewhere) – Texas (SXSW festival) – UK (webzines) – World (theatres).
It was the British here again to spot the potential of Local Natives and spread their music after their SXSW appearance.
Gorilla Manor, the debut album, was out last November in UK on Infectious record. From there the tam-tam on the internet made it a music blogosphere favourite.
As already happened in a very similar way with the amazing Hospice by the Antlers, Frenchkiss showed to be the most foreseeing indie label and was quick to jump on this great band. Gorilla Manor will be distributed worldwide, including their USofA, this February.
To complete the deal, Local Natives are travelling on a mammoth European tour (as the Antlers, it must be Frenchkiss’ style!) to play Gorilla Manor to audiences everywhere from UK to Italy, from Spain to Germany. They will be back as winners to SXSW in Austin at the end of March. If you happen to be in any of those places, I wouldn’t miss them.
The first of the London dates (there is a bigger one at the end of the tour in March at the Heaven) was a very tam-tammed gig happening at the tiny, cosy and classy Hoxton Bar & Grill. Next door to the very posh, White Cube art gallery which is at the moment hosting a quite bland exhibition of Damien Hirst turned into an introspective painter after sacking his 120 collaborators. Hypes are not only in music.
East London growths as the place of contemporary, freak and alternative culture in the capital has been unstoppable in the last ten years.
Local Natives must have not felt at home in a square in a quite cold London winter night (One thing I cannot stand of Los Angeles is the fact that is a city with no squares, I felt like I was always travelling without never arriving to a destination). Nevertheless they fit with this “coolness”.
The sold out alt.crowd that packed the small Hoxton Bar concert room warmed everyone up very quickly.
When the five guys stepped on stage the excitement was very high.
Two guitars, bass, keyboards, drums and additional drums.
The sound took nothing to fill up the place up to the mirrorball. Their live impact is very percussive, the rhythm is transporting.
I cannot deny that even live their music reminds me of Fleet Foxes, to start, and, from there, many more things. The differences are remarkable but instead of playing the quiz of which other bands are inspiring them, I prefer to think that it’s the Californian base to have mould the sound in a more spacious, light-hearted direction.
Local Natives songs are what you would expect from Fleet Foxes if they were born in sunny LA instead of Seattle and recorded for Frenchkiss instead of SubPop.
To come back to the “reference standard” I was writing at the beginning, to emerge you have to jump high, not just in a studio, but live. Local Natives do.
They put on a gig that isn’t inferior to any of their friends, colleagues (and rivals).
From the moment they jump on stage they stole the scene and showed no intention to give it back.
A faultless set, with no weak points and a clever choice of the songs sequence that balanced the upbeat moments with more intimate playing.
Camera Talk opened, with loads of flashing digital cameras adding to my no-flash no-digital gear.
From there the concert was a grower that scrolled through their entire collection of songs (and someone’s cover? Am I right? Anyone to help?) getting the audience excitement high to the point that a guy could not restrain from shouting: “What a band, what a fucking band!” in the middle of a song.
The moustaches of singer guitarist Taylor Rice didn’t manage to hide the appreciation for the compliment. He bent on his instrument and dived into one of his guitar rides that makes both him and his body language look a lot like a very young Carlos Santana. Hopefully his guitar playing is not monotone, better mono-note, as Santana‘s sustain.
In perfect indie-style Taylor does not overemphasize the solos but works for the group and the group follows, crafting one perfect song after the other.
The collective is the strength of Local Natives. Two guitars overlap, Drums and percussion contribute to the steady rhythm, the keyboards and the bass follow each other in cooperation and, not last, all the members take vocal duties singing on the chord’s harmonics. The multilayered harmonies, sophisticated architecture, shape each of their songs in a perfectly round pearl that tonight got mounted on gold.
With the overabundance of catchy choruses and technical skills to adventure in mid songs improvisations in excess, to play for just over an hour for Local Natives is an easy and enthralling task.
They clearly are enjoying the night the best way to make it enjoyable to the fans. People sings, drinks, dance and sometime does the three things together which ends up in a spilled pint soaking the floor, the coats, the bags. Englishness.
Wide Eyes, Airplanes, Warning Sign charm everyone. They come back for an expected encores with their single and arguably their best song, Sun Hand.
The delightful multi-vocal opening melody turn into a central instrumental section that gets harder and harder and longer. A jam which made me wish we were still in the seventies when half hour suites were accepted.
In fact, Prog era is over. Indie rock today is essential, songs cannot be too long.
Local Natives gig was as a freshly squeezed, organic fruit juice plenty of refreshing crushed ice. Full of flavour and with all the little fruit bits inside to add the vitamines that make us stay well.
Hoxton Bar & Grill is a nice, erm… Bar & Grill restaurant, in Hoxton Square. Told you this. Get off to Old Street and walk a couple of blocks to get to the centre of the jetset of East London effervescent art(ist wannabe) scene.
In addition to the Bar & Grill, the place has a back room that holds comfortably around 400 people, 450 packed, 500 if you want to sweat a lot.
Photography-wise there is no press pit. Not tonight at least.
The stage is very high for such a small place.
Some sofas make it difficult to get very close but easy to get high. If you fancy facing the ire of fans and your balance try to stand on them for some quick shots.
There are two sets of stairs either side to get on stage. They are useful to step on and get a bit more elevated. You will be very close to the musicians so behave, they are working as you. Don’t be too intrusive, I know very wide shots are great but respect is the first thing for a music photographer.
The stage is also small. Loads of cable and microphone poles and instruments are on the way if a big band (well 5 are already a lot in there) is playing.
Lights were not too bad thankfully. Mainly spot directed towards the musicians, I have been to much worse situations.
What you need to shoot there?
No pit means you have to hold all your gear with you so bring plenty of pockets or a limited amount of lenses and bodies.
It’s also quite warm so leave your coat at the cloakroom if you don’t want to leave it on the floor and come back home soaked in beer.
No pit also means it is not very easy to move along the stage and fans are likely to be pissed off with you and your cameras wandering around, again, behave, be respectful.
No pit most of times means you can shoot the entire gig, so take your time to enjoy it and to wait for the best moment. Remember in live music photography the best moment do not coincide with your favourite song. The music doesn’t come out on the photo. The most boring part of a gig can offer your best photographic opportunities.
Equipment-wise a medium/long telephoto will help to minimize the low perspective and isolate the subject from the mess of cables. Thanks to the nice lighting I ended up using my scarcely utilized 135mm f2.8 for some closer portraits at this gig.