The most curious part of Local Natives and The Antlers double-bill at Osaka’s Club Quattro came after the show. As concert-goers streamed into the area where both band’s CDs were for sale, members of both groups started making their way out to talk to the people who had just watched them play for the past two-and-a-halfish hours. And the women hovering around the plain, white table went bananas. Hugs were exchanged, ticket stubs signed and cell phones whipped out to snap photos of the artists. Japan tends to overreact to foreign artists…Mr. Big remains virtual demi-gods on this side of the world…and it’s not like people in the West see someone in a band and turn their eyes away. Plus, the dudes in both groups certainly come off as handsome.
Yet this scene in the Club Quattro lobby felt strange because of just how young these two acts really are. Both bands have, for all intensive purposes, only a single album to lean on…The Antlers recorded two albums and several EPs worth of material prior to releasing 2009 breakout Hospice, but the trio’s setlist makes it seem like they only have that one LP to their name. Local Natives and The Antlers also aren’t exactly setting the world on fire – both have nabbed praise from NPR and the oh-so-coveted “Best New Music” tag from Pitchfork, but that’s about it. Maybe in the end it was just the fact these bands put on a great live show at Quattro that had the fans un-wadding pieces of paper for them to sign – despite delivering two very different experiences, both sets proved these groups deserve the looks they keep getting.
The Antlers’ live show has changed a bit since Hospice made them Internet darlings back in 2009. I saw the trio play at the Pitchfork Festival a week before I came to Japan (oh the memories! oh the caffeine-loaded Sparks!), and the group taking the stage that sweltering afternoon dripped earnestness. Playing their first Chicago show ever, they went exclusively through Hospice highlights, delivering them in surprisingly faithful way. The ambient corners of these songs remained, but the gorgeous melodies still rang through as well, along with the emotional core. It was a charming set from a band thrust into the indie-spotlight thanks to an emotionally wrenching record.
A year-and-a-half later and The Antlers have become a more road-seasoned group. The songs now sound bigger, at times almost eyeing stadium status – Hospice featured a collection of songs that felt claustrophobic, but the music played at Quattro came off as just “bigger,” synth-heavy passages going no particular place possibly brought about by the increase in equipment the band had on stage. It’s not really a diss to point this stuff out, because despite all the slight changes the songs retained their soul – say, the overall bleakness of “Sylvia” or the jangling-anxiety of “Two.” Hospice highlight “Bear” displayed these dueling sides most prominently – the whole tune sounded slightly slower than it did on album, the sparse lullaby rings joined by more instruments to beef it up a little, yet the best part remained unchanged, when the chorus sends the whole track off the rails and turns into a manic argument sang entirely by front-man Peter Silberman. The show did feature one new track that confirmed what the band told Pitchfork recently about leaning towards more electronic sounds for their next album. Silberman’s vocals, so vital on Hospice got drowned out by the tag-team of Korg and Nord keyboards. Also, unlike anything else before or after, this track straight-up grooved. This one detour aside, The Antler’s put on a solid opening show that, despite a slightly grander vision, still balanced out ambient suffocation with huge hooks.
Local Natives, on the other hand, wasted no time launching into their music. After a few brief “hello, thanks for having us here tonight” mandatory statements, they launched into the galloping travelogue “Camera Talk,” which was only a few violins away from being an excellent copy of what appeared on last year’s debut Gorilla Manor. From there the quintet went on to play every song off of that album with the same hollerin’ energy, art-school swagger matched up against pretty three-piece harmonizing.
The majority of the group’s set plowed ahead with seemingly un-exhaustible energy, even the slightly slower numbers like the NPR-mentioning “World News” or the obtusely-about-Skype number “Cubism Dream” boasting moments of catharsis via voices joined together and guitars gone crazy. Only the calm “Sticky Thread” and, strangely enough, the closest thing Local Natives have to a “hit” in “Airplanes” being breathers. All this talk of boundless enthusiasm isn’t code for “not good musicians” – Local Natives have their show locked down. They use double percussion which never sounded off, and the harmonizing…picture Fleet Foxes’ with a backbone…similarly never missed the mark. Yet the band likewise never sounded too mechanical either, their songs imbued with a sense of improv that’s most likely so well-scripted it feels spontaneous. Or maybe that’s just a result of how much the member’s flailed about the stage, appearing to be really caught up in the moment.
The best moment of the entire night…ignoring the lobby scene serving as the lead here…came during Local Native’s one-song encore. They played the aggressive “Sun Hands,” a track that spends about a little over a half of it’s run time messing around with folk-speckled rock. The band played it straight until they reached that moment – everyone but the drummer shouting out together before a guitar darts in and rips the song to pieces. Live, this transition captured the painstaking-and-free sides of Local Natives perfectly, and had the people in Quattro going crazy. No wonder they got mobbed afterwards.