Show Review: Middle Kids & Local Natives Are A True Tour De Force

Think about some of your favorite musicians in the world. Have you seen them live? Bought every single album they’ve ever released? Multiple copies of the same album? Merch? Maybe you’ve even been lucky enough to have met them at some point in your life. Now think about that for another musician. If you’re into more than one artist with that much passion, you’re probably pretty into music. Now imagine that those two artists TOURED together. That’s what happened to me after Local Natives announced a tour with Middle Kids to promote their long-awaited fourth studio album, Violet Street. 

As if you couldn’t guess already, I was pretty amped to see such an amazing combination of artists performing together on the same tour. I have seen both Middle Kids and Local Natives a handful of times: Middle Kids at Lollapalooza in 2017, again later that year at Lincoln Hall, and a third time the following June (2018) again at Lincoln Hall. Middle Kids an indie rock band from Sydney, Australia – comprised of Hannah Joy (lead vocals & guitar), Tim Fitz (drums), and Harry Day (guitar). I discovered their music after perusing the Lollapalooza lineup and instantly became a fan. At the time, they only had their debut EP released.

The band’s first single “Edge of Town” caught the attention of one of the greats – Sir Elton John himself, who played the track on his Beats 1 radio show and added it to his Apple Music playlist.  They shortly signed with Domino Records for their debut EP and LP.

Their first EP is still home to some of my favorite songs by theirs, hands down. Their sound, and specifically Hannah’s vocals, reminded me a lot of a grittier version of HAIM, but the more I listened, it reminded me a lot of 90s indie music: specifically Alanis Morissette and The Cranberries, and earlier stuff like Fleetwood Mac. Middle Kids specifically site influences to their sound like Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Radiohead, Sigur Ros and the National. Click here to see a playlist of the band’s influences, curated by the band themselves. Super cool!

Middle Kids’ debut album, Lost Friends, was released in May of 2018 – an album “that’s all about fumbling your way through insecurities, indecision, and embarrassments.” It received overwhelmingly positive reviews across the board.

I first saw Local Natives back in 2014 when I was a freshman at DePaul – they were one of the artists apart of the spring concert series (Childish Gambino was the headliner).  I had known of their music in spurts and considered myself a casual fan. I wasn’t completely invested as a die hard fan until their third studio album, Sunlit Youth, was released in the fall of 2016. My senior year of college had just started and I was feeling particularly restless at a turning point in my life – and it also happened to be just a couple months before the 2016 presidential election.

Sunlit Youth had lots of political moments throughout the album and it was really inspiring for me to see a band being so aware of their platform and their art and being able to say so much with their music. I was so inspired that I wrote a journalism assignment on their work with Headcount – a non-profit, apolitical organization run by volunteers who attend music festivals and concerts to get people signed up to vote. You can read this story here if you’re so inclined!

I ended up seeing Local Natives three times within 8 months or so in 2017 and 2018 and they quickly became one of my favorite artists. If you aren’t familiar with them, Local Natives is an indie rock five-piece band from Silver Lake, a town in Los Angeles. The current members include Taylor Rice (lead vocals, guitar), Kelcey Ayer (lead vocals, keys), Ryan Hahn (vocals, guitar), Matt Frazier (drums) and Nik Ewing (bass). Their first album, Gorila Manor, was released in 2009 and was self-funded.

The band started to garner attention of the press after their debut at South By Southwest in the same year after being compared to bands like Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes and Vampire Weekend. Hummingbird was released in 2013, followed by Sunlit Youth in 2016 and most recently, Violet Street earlier this year. Hummingbird was produced by Aaron Dessner of The National and is particularly portrayed by fans as heavier than any other of their albums.

Fast forward to 2019 and Local Natives is currently touring to support Violet Street. The album was produced by Shawn Everett, who just produced Kacey Musgraves’ Album Of The Year-winning Golden Hour. Their stops in Chicago included two sold-out shows at Thalia Hall, a 1,300 cap venue in Pilsen.

Middle Kids opened the evening on Friday with a 45-minute set, which was a great amount of time for an opening act to perform! Even though I had seen them live before, it was great to see them back again just about a year after the last time I had seen them perform in Chicago. It was evident how much they have grown as live performers – and cool that they were able to showcase their sound on a physically (and symbolically) bigger stage.

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I loved hearing new songs from Middle Kids like “Salt Eyes,” “Beliefs And Prayers” and “Real Thing,” three new songs from their recent EP, New Songs For Old Problems, which coincidentally dropped the same night of this performance. You can stream it on Spotify here.

Hannah started playing the piano at the age of three and is a classically trained musician, you can tell in the strength of her vocals and how they never wavered at any point throughout the set. I’m looking forward to seeing more from Middle Kids in the future and know for a fact that they’ve been making new fans on this tour.

Local Natives’ two shows in Chicago were only the 6th and 7th shows of the North American leg of the tour and I’ve been watching intently to see how the setlist changes along the way. They had been opening and closing with different songs and it was like a guessing game to see where the chips would fall. As the lights dimmed and the crowd started to rally, the band walked onstage and begun performing “Shy,” one of my favorite songs off the new album. Taylor began singing the song with maracas in hand and on a smile on his face.

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The band made sure to keep the momentum going by performing two older songs next, “I Saw You Close Your Eyes” and a fan favorite, “Wide Eyes.” Out of the 19 songs, the band played six out of ten from their new album (including a 46-second interlude), four songs from their 2nd and 3rd albums, and three from their first album. Despite the fact that Local Natives aren’t necessarily a legacy act or have been performing for decades, it was really neat to see that they were giving a chunk of time to each of their albums. Since they did take a long break (about 2.5 years) between releasing albums, I think they’re aware that their fans want to hear a variety of songs performed.

While there really isn’t a Local Natives song that I dislike, there were definitely songs I would want to hear over others, and I was lucky to hear them ALL! Like I said before, I’ve been stalking their set lists and was really hoping they would swap some out for my show but wasn’t trying to get my hopes up. They ended up playing my ALL TIME favorite song of theirs, “World News,” which hasn’t been on the setlist this tour at all. It was such a beautiful surprise I was speechless. They also debuted a live performance “Gulf Shores,” which is one of my favorite songs off the new album as well. I think they should keep that track on the setlist because the production on the track translates really well in a live setting. Another beautiful addition to the setlist was hearing “Colombia,” which is a song from the band’s second album, Hummingbird, and is specifically about Kelcey’s mom passing away from cancer.

I can’t imagine playing such a personal song to a room full of strangers and allowing yourself to be open to that vulnerability. I commend him for that.

There’s only a handful of artists who are able to release fantastic music consistently. While this is obviously subjective, I would venture to make the statement that Local Natives is probably one of the view in the indie rock scene that have been able to release music with consistently good reviews across the board with continued satisfaction from fans. While there are artists that I will always love even if they create music I may not love (i.e. Taylor Swift), I have the upmost confidence that Local Natives will never release a bad song.

My favorite moments from the evening included the performances of “Shy,” “Megaton Mile,” “World News,” “When Am I Gonna Lose You,” “Colombia” and “Gulf Shores.”

Check out photos from the set below! This was my first time shooting in the pit ever and it was an amazing experience.

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Click here to listen to Local Natives’ newest release, Violet Street.

Thanks for reading!

  • Kristin
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