It began with "Runaway." The
nine-member incarnation of The National, complete with three horn players and a
keyboardist, began the set with a new, mesmerizing, post–Boxer song. Poignant
and compelling even on the first go-around, everyone listened with rapt
attention. Then, like one communal exhale, guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner
launched into the opening riffs of "Start A War" and the place
erupted. It wasn't the during-intro cheers that marked the change, it was that
the baritone notes that spilled out of Matt Berninger as he clutched his
microphone like a lifeline were now veiled in a delicate tenor and soprano
cloak as thousands sang along with him. Our song shimmered in the background
like the tinsel curtain behind the band itself.
The set was as expansive as the room at the
Tabernacle, all chandeliers and hand-painted walls. Between most of the songs
from their most recent full-length, Boxer, The National
interspersed numbers from Alligator and two or three yet-to-be-released tracks.
They played "Green Gloves," "Squalor Victoria
"Apartment Story" (which builds upon itself much differently live
than on the record), but also "Mr. November" and "Secret
Meeting." Berninger was in unusually high spirits, bantering with the
audience, giving someone a cup of champagne because he'd called Berninger
"beautiful" in a throw-away yell. "I don't get that much,"
he told the amazed crowd member.
There are several truly impressive things about watching The National
play live: the Dessner brothers ping-ponging guitar parts off each other,
Berninger's vocal charisma, the sheer intricacy of the arrangements and the way
in which the members switch instruments so effectively, to name a few. But on
my second experience with them, I was again most impressed with drummer Bryan
Devendorf. At the risk of sounding trite, he's their very heartbeat, albeit
riddled with arrhythmias and stutters, their driving force, their propellant.
With his help, The National is consistently proving themselves among the very
best bands currently performing; and they must be, to make music so somber and
dark into an experience so transcendent.
Category: Live Reviews