May 21, 2010 in Features

Local Natives bring the groove to Empyrean

California quintet known for multi-part harmonies
Courtesy of Wendy Redfern photo

From left, Kelcey Ayer, Taylor Rice, Andy Hamm, Ryan Hahn and Matt Frazier of Local Natives. The band will play Tuesday night at Empyrean Coffee House. Courtesy of Wendy Redfern
(Full-size photo)

If you go

Local Natives, with Suckers and The Sassmatrons

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Empyrean Coffee House, 171 S. Washington St.

Tickets: $9/advance (, $11/door

This weekend at Empyrean

 Next up at Empyrean are a couple of themed party concerts starring favorites from Spokane’s indie scene.

 Tonight is a fairies and goblins dance party framed by experimental rock and laptop music by Cyrus Fell Down, Please Draw in Me, Olaf Olaf Olaf and Pegasus Dream’s new side project, Salt Water Magic.

 The show starts at 7 p.m.; cover is $7, or $5 with a fairy or goblin costume.

 Then Empyrean goes from hipster to hippie for Spostock, with Bodhi Drip, Olive Green, Stephen Cash and Sky paying tribute to Woodstock legends The Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, The Who and Jimi Hendrix. Same deal: cover is $7, $5 if you dress up.

 The concerts are a sort of kick-off party for the summer music season at Empyrean.

Local is the word of the week at Empyrean Coffee House. While this weekend’s shows feature some of Spokane’s buzziest bands, Empyrean is sure to draw a crowd on Tuesday for one of the buzziest bands in the country, Local Natives.

A little more than a year ago, the California quintet was still unsigned and playing to 10 or 20 people in dive bar after dive bar.

But after hustling through nine shows at hipster hotbed SXSW 2009, Local Natives has quickly become one of the most hyped indie bands to surface on the radar recently.

Before the February stateside release of Local Natives’ full-length debut, “Gorilla Manor,” the band had completed its first tour in the U.K., where the album had already been released for months and was getting rave reviews.

Drawing comparisons to several other lauded indie bands like Fleet Foxes, Midlake and Arcade Fire, Local Natives is known for gently sung multi-part harmonies, world groove guitar work and driving drums. A style that transcends genre, it’s been described as Afro-beat- inflected folk music influenced by 1970s FM radio rock.

There is no true lead singer in the band; instead, it’s fronted by complex-yet-inviting vocal melodies carried by guitarists Ryan Hahn and Taylor Rice and keyboardist Kelcey Ayer. The hyper percussion and pulsating bass are provided by Matt Frazier and Andy Hamm.

The self-funded “Gorilla Manor” was created while band members were living together in a chaotically messy house of the same name, where friends were constantly coming in and out, tinkering on random instruments.

The songs transform from voluminous climaxes like “Sun Hands” to the chilling moments of intimacy of “Wide Eyes.” There is also a barely recognizable cover of Talking Heads’ “Warning Signs.”

The album was truly collaborative, with song ideas flipped on their heads a dozen times before seeing completion. The band even produced its own album artwork.

After releasing the record in Europe and being courted by various big indies and bigger majors, Local Natives signed with Les Savy Fav’s label, Frenchkiss Records (The Antlers, The Hold Steady, The Dodos, Passion Pit), because of the label’s artist-friendly reputation.

While “Gorilla Manor” is getting mad props from critics, Local Natives is also receiving praise for an intense live show that ranges from swells of tribal chants to quiet, tender tunes.

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