“I feel like Austin was one of the first cities that cared about us outside of Los Angeles,” Local Natives keyboardist Kelcey Ayer told the ACL faithful Sunday afternoon at the Honda stage. “You’re a huge part of our history.”
Indeed after seven years, three strong albums, and frequent stops in town that spanned private corporate parties and a Saturday night blowout at the Parish, one of the hardest-touring bands of the decade played out its weekend commitments as a powerful, united love letter of a set to a city that’s been great for business. While Local Natives climb the festival bill, you might compare their accessible indie rock to past ACL radio bands like Cold War Kids, Snow Patrol, or Alt-J, but there’s layered songwriting and bite here.
2009’s “Wide Eyes” popped live with three-part vocal breakdowns and skinny jeans-tight guitar licks. “Villainy,” the perpetual “first song off the new record,” blended in dance rhythms and synthesizer sonics that steamrolled Zilker Park.
In their solid-color shirts and donning patchy facial hair, the band members carry themselves like tech bros who rent sweet Airbnbs come Coachella season. But gems like 2013’s “You and I” showed soft soul with mournful spirit. Frontman Taylor Rice is as committed to his work and earnest as they come in modern rock, and when “Airplanes,” a heartbreaking song about lamenting the short window of life you had with a grandparent, made its inevitable setlist appearance the narrative still got you. (Local Natives are also earnest enough to pull off a Beyoncé cover that is not offensive or terrible.)
“Hope I see you dancing for LCD [Soundsystem] later,” Rice said. “We’re going to be out there with you.”
You almost buy it. Then Rice turned political and rallied not against Trump or Clinton, but against cynicism: “This might be your first election. Please get registered,” he said prior to singing this year’s “Fountain of Youth.” It’s a track where the band, outspoken Democrats, includes the lyric “I have waited so long, Mrs. President.”
But Sunday’s performance was about commemorating the city that, in the band’s own words, “cared” early on. 2009’s “Sun Hands,” which featured sawtooth riffs and pop-up crowdsurfing from Rice, was the only set-closing option.