17 June 2010
The National, Radio City Music Hall - June 16, 2010
I have no choice but to start this entry from my phone on the bus home from Radio City Music Hall. The concert I just experienced was probably the best of my life. I am slightly dumbstruck right now by what I just witnessed but there must be a way to sum it up.
The first time I saw The National was Hammerstein Ballroom for a New York Magazine party I had heard about a few weeks earlier. I was already beginning to fall in love with this band and was starting the still neverending saga of nonstop listening but as with any relationship, I didn't know how long it was going to last. I've seen hundreds of bands in my short span on earth and some have been great - others are okay. You never know. So much depends on the personality of the musicians themselves, not just the songs.
Matt Berninger changed my way of thinking about concerts. I work at a music venue, I see different kinds of artists make different kinds of splashes in their own way every other night. Never had I seen a vocalist so involved with what he was saying. His emotional experience on stage made the experience for the people off of it exuberant. I was taken back and it took me a while after the show was over to understand my feelings. This wasn't idol worship at a Tom Petty concert or oogling James Mercer and his cutesy humming at a Shins show. This was something so real that it was practically tangible. I was hooked after that one performance. Yeah, Matt Berninger is not the first frontman to throw an alcoholic beverage at the back of the stage or break a microphone stand but I've come to learn that every night those moments come from a place I can't even understand. My words, as usual, are probably a waste trying to explain something that you have to see to understand. Berninger's intensity on stage is so incredibly powerful that it takes over the focus of the room. And amazingly, it is not just in the crazy moments of wine glass flinging and crowd surfing, it is in the quiet moments when it is just his deep baritone voice and a single spotlight that the exceptional power comes out.
That was particularly the case tonight at Radio City. Performing the fan favorite and long missing song in so many sets of late, "Daughters of the Soho Riots" stood out like a bright green peacock in the middle of this stunning venue. The sound of Berninger's voice was simply the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. I am not afraid to tell you that I cried at Carnegie Hall last year when another stunning ballad "Runaway" was still being called "Karamozov" in its early stages. I was surprised by the instantaneous feeling it gave me. That kind of rush of emotions over a song didn't seem right. I don't typically cry over the emotional depth of a song but once again tonight I was struck with the same feeling. It is not even my favorite National song but there are few perfect matches as Matt Berninger and "Runaway". He was meant to sing those words. Radio City was given a planetarium-like makeover with spinning starryesque lights chasing one another throughout the audience and the moment was awe-inspiring.
"Conversation 16", my current favorite off the new album High Violet, finally got the justice it deserved as well. Maybe it was the backdrop of one of the most famous venues in the world or the lighting that served the song perfectly but, well, let me just set the stage for you: Berninger opens with saying the song is about cannibalism, someone (I think it was Aaron Dessner) says, "this song is just weird", then lights go down, they go through the verses and the light shines on Berninger as he sings, "I was afraid I'd eat your brains" - then lights go red and the explosion of "'cause I'm-m-m evil". This segueing directly into one of my favorite lines on the entire album:
"I'm a confident liar, had my head in the oven so you'd know where I'd be, I try to be more romantic, I want to believe in everything you believe."
Later on, the brilliant, sexy, and vaguely dark "Lemonworld" was an incredible addition to the encore (that no matter what could not be long enough). And of course, the masterpiece of the evening - like any good National evening - "Mr. November". Where to begin! I have probably seen this song live ten times and never was it as good as the Radio City version. It was the kind of performance that should go down in history. Imagine, a bearded man in a smart, sophisticated suit holding the longest microphone wire you have ever seen scaling the walls of a music hall - literally climbing the edges of the walls to reach the mezzanine and then walking through the entire front row of the mezzanine, falling along the way on audience members, then walking back to the stage in the opposite direction with the wire going over the entire length of the orchestra section. Barely missing a word, not breaking anything, and getting safely back on stage. I wish I had a photograph of the faces with jaws open and eyes wide staring and smiling in disbelief at the greatest frontman in rock music. There is no one that even comes close to Matt Berninger. I try to refrain from saying such grandiose statements that might seem embarrassing but I firmly believe this.
The show ended with the best version of "Terrible Love" I have heard and somewhere in between this lucky audience also got to hear "Available" off the older but equally magnificent album Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks", another new song I never appreciated enough until last night, and "Abel", jokingly referenced as a quiet song, among others.
Every time I write about The National I tell myself that I will contain the gushing to maybe one sentence. I will try to be objective and think from a "music journalist's" perspective. Luckily, I have no idea how to do that so I can only be honest. I can only suggest that you get on Youtube immediately and find some footage of this unbelievable concert. I will also say that it was not just The National that helped to make this one of the best sounding events I've witnessed - the quality and precision at Radio City Music Hall is haunting. The technical beauty of this place is indescribable. I've never been more excited at a concert and I wonder if I ever will.
The National - Radio City Music Hall Setlist - June 16, 2010
Mistaken for Strangers
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks (with St. Vincent)
Afraid of Everyone (with Sufjan Stevens)
Daughters Of The Soho Riots
Photograph from my collection - Electric Factory, June 4, 2010 (review and more photos still to come)