Beneath red and blue lights at Stage AE, Kelcey Ayer of Local Natives traded his keyboards and drum for a guitar. He began to sing "Colombia." Punctuated with chanting references to his late mother, his tone was mournful.
"Patricia, every night I'll ask myself / Am I loving enough?" he sang in the song from the group's sophomore album, "Hummingbird." It felt like a confession. And, in a way, it was. The crowd, a mix of teens and 20-somethings, swayed easily. Few smart phones could be seen snapping photos or taking videos. Most audience members just listened to the sad lyrics, many with eyes closed.
This ability to transform deep, personal memories into a beautiful chorus works well for a band that specializes in harmonic vocals, which often rise in unison into laments on several songs.
The band also has its own longstanding memories, made from playing together since they were kids. Formed in Orange County, Calif., by Ayer and high-school friends Taylor Rice and Ryan Hahn, their performance style reflects a comfort with each other that comes from growing up. Seamlessly switching instruments and spots on stage, each song built off the previous one, giving the show a sense of improvisation.
Some bands sound no different live than they do in recording. But the five touring members of Local Natives used each other, allowing sounds from guitar, synthesizer and drums to emerge organically.
Promoting their latest album, they led with new material like "You & I" and the 2013 single "Heavy Feet." In their own world, they kept their gazes geared downward, if only to stay focused -- Ayer simultaneously sang while playing synthesizer and percussion. Such diversity in skill makes a band entrancing to watch live, like athletes trained in every position rather than specialized players who know only their niche.
Although mostly non-responsive to the crowd, connection between artists and audience wasn't lost completely. When they played the 2010 single "World News," which helped launch them to prominence, refrains of "do-do-doodle-do-do" rolled through the auditorium.
They followed with "Airplanes," another single from their 2009 LP, "Gorilla Manor." "I keep those chopsticks you had from when / You taught abroad in Japan," Ayer sang, this time referencing his grandfather. "I bet when I leave / My body for the sky the wait will / Be worth it," he continued.
All evening, the band deftly maneuvered between light, refrained melodies and defiant cymbal crashes coupled with blaring guitar riffs and even the occasional headbang from Rice. The genre-shifting works to their credit as they presented a refined palate of sensitivity mixed with punishing rock. And when the heartfelt choruses from Ayer do crop up, they were more powerful, complemented by a strong mix of folk and hard rock.
Playing new and old hits all evening, including the recent single "Breakers," they concluded their encore with "Who Knows Who Cares" and "Sun Hands", both off of their first album. By the end, no matter how mellow people might have been to start, they were clapping right along with drummer Matt Frazier's bass drum beats.
"I'll endure the night / For the promise of light," sang the band and crowd in unison.
Local Natives Set List:
"Who Knows Who Cares"