Local Natives: Exceeding Expectations

Local Natives
The Fox
Berkeley, CA
January 30, 2013

Local Natives: Exceeding Expectations

Heading to the Fox Theater to hear Local Natives, my attitude was lacking.  Another night, another indie band.  I should have had far more enthusiasm, particularly considering that the last two shows I attended (at the Freight & Salvage, see below) were both winners.  And when you’re on a streak, you have to respect the streak.  But I was lukewarm about the proceedings.  Even the excellent company and good grub at Rudy’s Can’t Fail CafĂ© wasn’t enough for me to achieve normal preshow levels of excitement.  In retrospect, I think it may have been my low expectations that allowed me to better appreciate Local Native’s limited offerings - because the offerings were limited, but I still enjoyed the show.

Local Natives has been around now for about 5 years. Their first album, ‘Gorilla Manor,’ was released in 2009 and garnered a fair amount of attention and spawned several minor hits: ‘Sun Hands’ and ‘Who Knows, Who Cares’ being the biggest and best.  The complexity and confidence of the musicianship in these songs belied their youth and inexperience and kick-started an expectations game.  There was a consensus that the band was destined for even brighter times.  Their sophomore album, ‘Hummingbird,’ was released the day before the show and is a surprisingly mature effort that avoids much of the sophomore jinx where bands try to over-elaborate and end up with bombastic noise that they think is art.  LN’s sound is often compared to Fleet Foxes, because of the over-indulgence in three-part harmonies, and Talking Heads, because of the complex structure of songs that is nevertheless accessible. 

Their performance at the Fox was also a fairly mature and accomplished effort.  For a young band, this is impressive.  Yet, my own impression is that the band may have reached their limits.  I just don’t see them drawing any bigger crowds then they did last night.  But there are plenty of bands that make a career out of playing midsize theaters.  One negative: the show was short, just over an hour.  But the band genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves.  The bottom line: exceeding expectations, even if they’re low, still makes for a fun night.

Songs to check out: Sun Hands, Who Knows

David Grisman Sextet: Top Drawer

David Grisman Sextet
Freight & Salvage
Berkeley, CA
January 27, 2013

David Grisman Sextet: Top Drawer

Last weekend, the Freight & Salavage in Berkeley hosted a weekend tribute to famed jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, including concerts, workshops, panel discussions and an open house for all things string jazz.  The weekend extravaganza ended on Sunday with a performance by the David Grisman sextet, which was appropriate enough since DG had actually performed on many occasions with Stephane Grappelli and even recorded an album with the legendary violinist.  Of course, DGrisman has achieved virtual living-legend status himself.  He is the Yo Yo Ma of the mandolin.  His name is virtually synonymous with the instrument.  And for good reason.  You will simply not be able to find a better, more accomplished mandolinist.

Django Reinhardt is oft times cited by jazz aficionados as one of the greatest guitarists of all time.  He is certainly one of the most influential jazz guitarists of the last generation.  Together with Stephane, he virtually invented acoustic string jazz.  Their style of music is sometimes called ‘hot jazz’ though it at times gives a mis-impression of being rather laidback or languid.  I love it for all the space in the music.  It certainly evocative and reminds me of Parisian cafe life.  It is definitely not a wall of sound like so much pop and rock music.  Django’s style of jazz guitar briefly bubbled into popular consciousness after Sean Penn played a Django-obsessed character in the movie “Sweet and Low Down.”

On Sunday, the David Grisman sextet played a generous set of some of Django and Stephane’s most well known tunes.  For being 68 years old, David Grisman has a lot of energy.  He is also a very generous musician frequently allowing the other members of his sextet to shine.  One annoying thing about listening to a jazz performances today is the incessant insistence of the audience to applaud after every solo which I’m sure the musicians appreciate but also interrupts the song and means that I'm applauding six or seven times for each song.  This is a ridiculous tradition that should die off but probably won't.  Nevertheless, as the night went on, the set got better and better.  It started as a top-drawer performance and, by the end of the night, I was hoping to find a live recording.  That’s a good concert.

Check out the original: Django and Stephane playing here and here.