August 10, 2013 – The National @ Greek Theatre, LA
On Saturday night, The National played their first of two nights in the new hometown to frontman Matt Berninger; this time at LA’s historic Greek Theatre. The 6,000+ capacity was certainly a marked change of scenery from the 350 person Bell House in Brooklyn where I last caught them, just prior to the release of High Violet.
What anyone who has ever been to one their performances can attest, whether the stage is tiny or is amongst the biggest in the world, The National deliver one of the most memorable experiences imaginable. Reviews will abound with what songs they played, but I’d prefer this review to talk about the growth of a band and my experiences as a fan of that band hitting success in perfect stride. Having first caught them in Louisville, KY in 2007 (and being so enamored with the performance where my friends and I bought tickets to the following night’s performance in their former-former hometown of Cincinnati, OH) and seeing the blatant nervous ticks of a man not yet comfortable performing on a stage in front of a couple hundred people to seeing that same man, six years later, running through a sold-out crowd of 6,000 people sing-screaming all of the lyrics to their songs made me, as a fan, feel incredibly proud. There’s something about The National that creates a really deep connection with its fans which is why I think that they’ve had the success they’ve had. They’ve never had the regular radio-play outside of the KCRW/NPR/College Radio world. What they have, however, are heartfelt songs about realistic experiences that encourage fans to connect on a quasi-personal level. I hear “Apartment Story” and I picture my wife and I getting ready for hosting a dinner party. I hear “Conversation 16” and I think about loving her so much and feeling like I fail her. I hear “I Should Live in Salt” and I think about how mad she can make me. I hear “About Today” and I think about how scared I’d be to lose her. I hear “Abel” and I think of the inanity of some of my friends. I hear “Terrible Lie” and I ask myself where I’m heading. The National have written the soundtrack to our lives.
Perhaps I’m just self-centered. Hell, I am writing a concert review and somehow making it all about me. I feel like Matt could appreciate that. But the story that The National tells is a bit of the everyman story that all of its fan can empathize with and connect to. If you don’t believe me then you should have heard the chants of “Baby, We’ll Be Fine” or “I Was Afraid, I’d Eat Your Brains.” You can hear it the voices that it’s not just singing along with miscellaneous words. Everyone of the 6,000 in attendance singing along sang with true emotion. And yet the story isn’t confined to the lyrical content. The Dessner and Devendorf brothers create a mood and energy befitting and perfectly complementing the story.
If there’s one thing that The National does as good as write amazing songs, it’s put on an amazing performance. Totting around the ever present bottle of wine (which I’ve seen him share on stage with his mother, “Uncle Jack,” and thousands of adoring fans), both Matt and the Dessner brothers have learned to own the stage. A stage now outfitted with one of the most impressive and gorgeous light shows I’ve ever seen (a photographer’s dream). But, I suppose that’s what years of touring and becoming seasoned billboard-charting veterans will do. In the beginning it was largely Matt and occasional touring member Padma Newsome putting on the show, but it’s great to see that everyone is in on the show these days.
I had wondered in advance of the show whether the setlist would be “Trouble Will Find Me”-heavy, the recently released 6th Studio album. Having a catalog as deep as theirs with two releases since my last opportunity to see the band, I’d expected to hear far less of the old material. Fortunately, we were treated to a 24 song set spanning Alligator to Trouble, with, what Matt might call, a “good mixture” across the albums. The setlist was near perfect. Being a new Californian myself, I’d have loved to have heard “All the Wine” for the crowd’s reaction alone. But the closer, Vanderlyle/Crybaby Geeks, from 2011’s High Violet, was undoubtedly the highlight of the night. Stripping down to an acoustic set. For all of the raucous, and stage antics, light show, guitar-shredding, drum-deconstruction, The National is a band about the song and the fans are about right there with them. While About Today may have magically brought the crowd to a hush for those final few lyrics…”may I ask you, about today?” For Vanderlyle, the immense crowd became pin-drop quiet for the encore-closing acoustic song up until we were compelled to chant along in unison…”Vanderlyle, Crybaby, Cry…oh the waters are rising, still no surprising you…Vanderlyle, Crybaby Cry…man it’s all been forgiven, swans are a-swimming, I’ll explain everything to the geeks!” I wanted to cry myself. It was a beautiful moment. It summed up the emotions, both from a songwriting perspective and a performance perspective, of everyone taking a part in that moment.
- I Should Live in Salt
- Don’t Swallow the Cap
- Bloodbuzz Ohio
- Sea of Love
- Afraid of Everyone
- Conversation 16
- Squalor Victoria
- I Need My Girl
- This Is the Last Time
- Baby, We’ll Be Fine
- Slow Show
- Pink Rabbits
- About Today
- Fake Empire
- Mr. November
- Terrible Love
- Vanderlyle Crybaby/Geeks (Acoustic)
(Review + Photo: Cory Greenwell)