Live Review: Local Natives and The Love Language at the Belly Up Tavern, September 20, 2010

Photo credit: Lynzi Martin

Sunday’s lineup at the Belly Up boasted not one but two noteworthy bands: North Carolina’s The Love Language and LA’s fast-rising Local Natives. The Love Language and Local Natives aren’t exactly kindred spirits; the former is known for brittle tavern rock, the latter for catchy, world music-inspired compositions. Despite these differences, both bands suffered from excessively uniform sets.

From the keyboard-heavy “Nocturne” onward, The Love Language bathed the Solona Beach venue in the warm glow of their swaying, bleary-eyed sound. Singer Stuart McLamb’s vocals initially sounded weak and nondescript, but by the end of the second song — the infectious, punch-drunk anthem “Lalita” — his pipes had warmed up quite nicely.

The Love Language’s albums often favor a slower, more introspective attack, but their live set adhered almost entirely to their frenetic material. The ascending melody of “Sparxxx” and the beckoning harmonies of “Blue Angel” worked the unusually rowdy Belly Up crowd into a frenzy, while the swooning country ballad “Manteo” provided the set with a rare moment of tranquility.

Despite the excursion to “Manteo,” it wasn’t long before The Love Language returned to its heavier songs, ending their no-nonsense performance with the danceable “Heart to Tell” and the crowd-pleasing “Horophones.” The set was brisk and enjoyable, but in paving over the band’s softer, more vulnerable side, only presented the audience with part of the picture. Though, given the uncharacteristic rowdiness of the Sunday night attendees, keeping the energy high was probably a wise decision.

The crowd met Local Natives’ set with similar enthusiasm, and with good reason. From the rhythmic opener “Camera Talk” to the Talking Heads cover “Warning Sign,” the band sounded every bit as polished as they do on Gorilla Manor, their acclaimed debut. The five-piece’s tribal percussion and pitch-perfect harmonies took center stage, prompting dancing and singalongs from the crazed crowd.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the choral “Cards and Quarters,” the band’s similar approach to each song negated the potential for standouts. Local Natives’ formula of bright vocals and thumping beats is a winning one, but a little variety and more frequent dynamic shifts would do much to enrich their sonic palette.

Overall, the show was enjoyable, with fine performances from both bands, but uniformity plagued the night. For The Love Language, it was because they neglected much of their offbeat material. For the Local Natives, it was because they don’t seem to have any.

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