Friday, June 7, 2013

Live Review: The National - Barclays Center - June 5th, 2013

It was a big night for The National Wednesday night at the Barclays Center. Brooklyn is a place of great pride (just ask anyone from there, or that lives there currently, I’m sure they’ll shout about it at you), and it’s no secret the new arena was quite a leap in many ways for a band that’s big, but are they, THAT big? I enjoyed quickly retorting any friend who countered my concert-going excitement with a, “who are they?” confidently, “blah blah blahSOLD OUT BARCLAYS CENTER!?!?” Oh snap. Turns out, it wasn’t quite sold out, but it was quite full, raucously loud and thirsty (no pun intended) for a top grade rock show.

I can’t imagine anyone outside the Brooklyn Vegan peanut gallery didn’t get the concert they desired.
·       A rip-roaring start to the evening putting “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “Mistaken for Strangers,” and “Sea of Love” early in the set, really getting the crowd behind the band.
·       Speaking of “Sea of Love,” I always kind of swoon, and stop in my tracks at the vocal performance toward the end of the song when Berninger blends a monotone croon, with a clean scream. He heaves this vocal contortion a number of times, dueling banjos style, through the end of the song. It’s always been an effect I’m a sucker for (Grohl, Clapton, Polar Bear Club), and it’s just joyous to hear live.
·       Best joke: “It’s good to be back at the Barclay’s Centerwhere it all started.” Second best: “(before playing “Sorrow”) We know this song better than any of our other songs right now. We’re well rehearsed.” (Alluding to a six-hour performance of the song early in May, in which they played “Sorrow” 105 times in a row. They DID play an encore at this set. Yes.)
·       Anytime lead singer Matt Berninger screams. It’s like a symphony of awesome in my brain. Especially on songs that don’t have scream parts on the studio version like “Terrible Love” and “Squalor Victoria.” Those improv screams delight me to no end.
·       State of the art light show, complete with full graphic backdrops. Some of which have been used for a while, but live, have become as much a part of the songs as the notes.
·       I’m a raving fan of anytime they add more. More horns. More band members doing more things. Full Orchestra. Lay it on me, boys!  
·       The sound was good throughout the arena. Berninger sounded great and it seemed like it was a good show even for those not close and on the floor. The obvious sentiment taking a show to the arena level.
·       The new material was seamless! What a blue ribbon album Trouble Will Find Me is turning out to be.
·       Why did it ever have to end?
·       No songs off Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers which is not only my favorite National album, but it’s a Top 5 worthy by ANY band in my book. Not to hear even ONE song off your favorite album by a band you’re seeing is kind of peculiar.
·       The pressure of the evening perhaps took away from more joking around, story telling and deep cuts?

This is GOOD NEWS from a band known for communicating frowns and sunken heads. I can’t tell you how sick I am of people chastising The National for “being too sad” and that every note and thread of the music and personas are just drenched in depression. I mean, sure it’s kind of funny to sardonically sunshine blow songs like “Sorrow” and a whole new batch of tunes on the new album Trouble Will Find Me like: “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” “Humiliation,” “Graceless,” or “I Should Live in Salt.” I get it. It’s sad. It’s amazing. It’s amazingly sad, yet in its own way can be quite therapeutic and/or uplifting, but I’ll be damned if anyone seriously takes in a National show and calls them ONE-DIMENSIONAL!?

One thing nobody can take away from The National, is the notion that hard work and talent always rise to the top. This is a band, a story, a testament to that in every sense of the word. Busting their ass making albums that fit their astronomical expectations. You feel in every progressive album they are doing, there is an increased standard, or mindset to try new things, expand horizons and top anything they’ve ever done. Not to make hits, but to work fucking hard at their craft. They’ve toured their asses off, playing shows to “nobody” (referenced with that exact word by Berninger before playing “Abel”) and now they can ride their bikes HOME, to one of the biggest venues in the city and own it proudly. This is the kind of work ethic Brooklyn, New Yorkers, the American Dream and all bands alike should look to as an example. Respect.    

Matt Berninger is quickly becoming one of my all-time favorite stage presences. I know this is a bit of a stretch, but I think in some ways he’s a lot like Jim Morrison. Wait, hear me out here. First off, the voice is deep and mumble-y at times, just like Morrison. Classic baritone? It’s so fun to walk around a room and mumble as deep and internally as possible National songs. It makes me giddy to do this. Especially, when the lyrics are something like, “If you want to see me cry/play “Let it Be”/Or “Nevermind.” Something about doing this in an internally boisterous manner, amongst the walking zombies of this great planet makes me happy.

Second, the scream-to-baritone mumble ratio and their complimentary concurrency? How about the poetry and moonlit song and dance? L.A. Woman meet Mr. November? The effect when Morrison screams is perfectly correlating to that of Berninger’s. The blues improv ending of “Roadhouse Blues” is equal to the repetitive advertising freak out of, “My mind’s not right/My mind’s not right/My mind’s not right!!!” It’s surprising how rocking it is, when you don’t believe  they’re capable of doing it to the degree they do. Berninger’s voice isn’t meant to scream (neither is Morrison’s, but his use of inflection gives the music such a mood swing). I would say, “he can’t scream” and mean it, yet, when he does it, I think it’s the BEST. THING. EVER. I wait patiently every show to watch Berninger to go berserk. It’s my favorite thing in LIFE right now. Yes, it’s that fucking special!!?!?

Third, the man is eccentric as all breaking hell Jumanji. It’s easy to get lulled to sleep by the lullabies of tears and sadness, then in an instant the guy is flying off the fucking handle. Then, you put in strobe lights, and kinds of flashing shit on stage; he seems to wander in and out of darkness and viewpoint in chunky robotic spazzes. Like a caged animal, circling the stage and being herded by band members and other physical barriers on stage, psychotically stuck in stereotypic movement. I remember reading someone saying he’s boring on Brooklyn Vegan, to which another countered that, he’s borderline “scary” due to lack of transition or pronounced reason of movement. I think he’s just an extremely shy, awkward human being, that has to charge himself up to perform on such a grandiose scale. It really seems at times like he’s going to just leave the stage, from pure shyness, and everybody looking at him. I thought this before seeing the documentary from the Alligator tour to which he did just that


All in all, I couldn’t ask for a better front man. He is commanding with that tall posture and the different ways he grabs the microphone and seemingly pours his heart out. He always plows into the audience during set-ending “Mr. November,” (The National's "Everlong) and is literally WITHIN the audience screaming a line that’s impossible not to rally around, as crowd and band become ONE, “I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November!” That’s the kind of shit that makes you want to carry a front man like a herd of cheerleaders.

I think it’s ironic that Trouble Will Find Me, stylistically, is a return to their first self-titled album, to which they seem to have abandoned completely. That first album has an alt-country Wilco vibe to it and some of the songs are so simple and delightful. Perhaps, they are hard to recreate with a full band, but still, there doesn’t seem to be any hope of hearing “Bitters & Absolute,” “The Perfect Song,” or even “John’s Star” anytime soon. But, the new album certainly seems to have exhaled a tad from the dense tension conveyed throughout High Violet. I might be the ONLY National fan in the world that would rate High Violet last on their discography list. I don’t dislike the album. I like it a lot, but find very few songs on it I enjoy all the way through, or that I crave on a regular basis, aside from “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Conversation 16.” Something just didn’t stick with me on as a whole. I love the moods and sonic atmosphere many of the songs create, but struggle to find complete enjoyment out of ALL the songs. Trouble Will Find Me finds the National finding a comfort zone within themselves, that’s utterly transcendent in the product, leaving the listener at ease, able to kick their feet up and relax. It’s only music. Beautiful music. Awe-inspiring soundscapes of vast tracks of land and anecdotes of name-riddled detail. Graceless my ass, Matt, your majestic moment has arrived.

Now, for the 16th time, I don’t know what all the trouble is for, but I’m glad it keeps finding you.

1. Don’t Swallow the Cap
2. Bloodbuzz Ohio
3. Mistaken for Strangers
4. Sea of Love
5. Sorrow
6. Demons
7. Heavenfaced
8. Afraid of Everyone
9. Conversation 16
10. Squalor Victoria
11. I Need My Girl
12. This is the Last Time (with Annie Clark)
13. Abel
14. Apartment Story
15. Pink Rabbits
16. England
17. Graceless
18. About Today
19. Fake Empire

20. I Should Live In Salt
21. Humiliation
22. Mr. November
23. Terrible Love

24. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks (acoustic) 

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