30 May 2009

The National - May 29, 2009

It saddens me to have to be writing this review. It means I've already seen The National. It means there's nothing as exciting to look forward to and nothing to make the laugh lines around my mouth even deeper.

Last night at The Electric Factory I fell in love with my favorite band even more. I was in the second row of the pit, dying of thirst, and yet I could've easily watched The National play for another three hours before considering passing out. The setlist was exactly what one would expect with literally no surprises that I could surmise but these songs don't get old. Somehow there is always a little something extra added that makes each one as comfortable as an old friend but as scary as a creepy stranger - something you don't always completely understand or trust. Each lyric that leaves Matt Berninger's mouth takes a gracefully fragile, intimate fall into the air and wraps around the audience in this incredibly delicate way. The moments he allows us to share with him onstage are ones that seem like they should be the most private. He lets us watch his anguish, fits of rage, fits of insanity, and everything else he genuinely feels throughout the songs. He's not trying to look handsome or hip like a typical frontman - he is just serving the music. You get the feeling he is either incredibly self-conscious or the least self-conscious person on earth.

Typically, throughout a show I can't wait to hear my personal favorites. With a National show I love them all but I still have those tracks that stand out and are better played than others. At this concert, I found myself appreciating the ones I don't overplay the most. "Ada" and "About Today" were the standouts for me. "About Today", their closing number, was better than a dramatic play or an intense movie, better - and more real - than if the love affair he is singing about actually happened in my own life. I would never be able to portray my emotions on the level that he can. The respect he shows these songs, some he's been singing for half a decade, is incredible. Dressed in a full gray suit, complete with watch and black boots, he looked like he could have been going to work on Wall Street. And unlike the average rock star, he drank white wine someone had brought out in an ice filled bucket. He teeters on a line between caricature and reality, both equally honest. At the end of the show, he was the first to walk off the stage looking like he had been through hell, dragging his suit jacket and carrying the wine bottle in his right hand. The other band members had to say thank you. I completely understood. I wouldn't be able to sing those lyrics without going off the deep end either.

During "Mr. November", one of the encore songs, Mr. Berninger managed to successfully use two microphone stands as he said, "one of them was looking at me funny". While he screamed with all the passion he could muster, he carried one of the stands on his back, tangled the mike cord well enough that a stagehand had to come out and fix it, and looked ready to explode to the point that his face was redder than the lights onstage. Yet not even that description could really explain the feeling that contributed to these actions. This is a man that comes onstage perfectly calm, starting off the night with the phenomenal new song, "Runaway", singing with all the quiet passion in the world and ends with his hair completely destroyed looking like he just had a heart attack. He transforms himself into whatever the song calls for, with just a little help from the aforementioned alcohol.

The emotions that run through these songs, both lyrically and musically, are so tangible, you can taste them. The loneliness every human feels even in a crowd of 2,000 people fills these songs and gives them life. The depression and fear that are always in the back of your mind is what The National is able to bring to the foreground and dangle in such a way that all these dark emotions come to light as beautiful and exciting.

There is nothing like seeing a National concert. It is unbelievable. I have never been in love with music to this level. I want to find words to describe it but the only moments I can compare it to would be the first dance with a spouse on your wedding day, the feeling you might have if you heard the world was going to end tomorrow, the moment you realized you're not immortal.. All these life changing moments that give you that sinking feeling in your stomach and that strange jolt in your chest - that is what The National portrays in their music. And it's not just the lyrics, it is the entire sound. During "Green Gloves", I had to remember to listen - the sound of the music was hypnotic. Listening to The National, especially live, feels like being right on the edge at the end of the world.

Ada (click on the video to see more from this awesome user, Aubrey)

Mr. November (found on youtube - wish it was closer).

All photos courtesy of the talented Thomas J. Hartnett - Originally found here and you can visit his personal blogs here and here


thom said...

thank you for this well-written and passionate review of a jaw-droppingly fantastic show. you do a great job of taking the more qualitatively esoteric qualities of the band and describing them in very personal yet universally relatable terms, without over-intellectualizing (as i am doing now, ha). i'm glad i discovered your blog, and i will surely continue reading it in the future.

also - i don't mean to sound like a jerk here, and i hope i don't come off that way - while i do not at all object to the use of my photographs, do you think it would be at all possible to add a photo credit and a link back to my flickr photostream? i would really appreciate it.

thanks again!

Aubrey said...

You used two of my videos on this entry, which is how I found it. You described everything so well. What an amazing band and an awesome night. :)

A.D. said...

Haha. I'm quite the thief in this post. I stole pictures, videos... the only thing that's mine are the words. I'm just lucky The National have so many friendly, extremely talented fans.

Glad to meet both of you and keep reading!

thom said...

Aubrey, thanks for the videos - it's great to be able to relive some of the moments from this show, and from a slightly different vantage point as well!

And A.D., no worries, thanks again for the credit and for the awesome review. I'm glad you liked the pictures, and as long as you keep writing I'll keep reading!