April 18, 2014
Last Friday, The National performed their fourth and final show of a four-night stand at the Chicago Theatre. What was intended to be a two night stop in Chicago quickly turned into four consecutive nights, after each show continually sold out at such a rapid rate and they added more dates. Lucky was I, to have fellow LxL’er Wes to snag me such a prized possession. Regretfully, he could not actually join, and was out of town that particularly night. Fortunately, that did not stop me from going, and what I expected to be a slightly boring, and very melancholic show, actually turned out to be a wonderful concert experience that surpassed most all expectation.
As I said, going into this show I was expecting very little. Not only have I already been a bit underwhelmed by The National’s live shows in the past, but I usually find myself getting bored with their music in general. Which I would say is fair. Slow, baritone/monotone music doesn’t exactly appeal to everyone. Particularly in a live setting.
Unfortunately, I arrived a bit late and had missed the opening act. This naturally bummed me out at first, but as soon as we got into The National I realized that foreplay was not exactly needed for this show. The crowd was more energized and into the music than I have seen a crowd in a long time. This was very refreshing considering the last live show I went to was Lorde, in which 90% of the audience was on their phone the entire time. Not actually talking on their phones but rather taking selfies, taking snap chats, taking pictures, taking videos, and of course texting. Not only this, but I also got into a fight with a drunk 15 year old, who called me an old man. This was after asking her to stop screaming of her love for Notre Dame during Lorde’s only monologue of the show.
But this not a recap of the Lorde concert, we are supposed to be talking about The National dammit. I was immediately impressed with the band’s sense of confident presence. I have seen them at festivals in the past where they had put on a similar show, but I have never heard them sound so good nor perform so confidently. This was the fourth night in a venue and city that clearly loved them, and you could tell.
The album that they are touring is 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, which much like the band itself has grown on me more and more over time. Naturally, a solid majority of songs played were pulled from this album, but there was a good mix of everything from their back-catalogue as well. The most rare sighting of the evening being “All Dolled-Up in Straps”, a never-been played before track from the 2004 Cherry Tree EP.
Terrific setlist aside, what really stole the show was the performances by the band, and especially the bellowing baritone front man, Matt Berninger. Chicago Theatre is no slouch on acoustics, and the band seemed to be playing better and brighter than I have ever heard them before. And for sounding fairly drab in most songs, Matt’s charisma carries the show. He is one of the more affectionate lead men I have ever seen. Joining the crowd multiple times for dancing, singing, and even moshing. Mosh at a National show you scoff? It is certainly no Metz stye mosh pit, but there were quite a lot of people bumping shoulders, which given theater style seating, is not an easy task. Tracks like “Fake Empire” and the incredible “Available”, in which Matt goes completely apeshit and screams his ass off, lend themselves to this atmosphere.
Back to Matt’s enduring nature, one shining example of how wonderful he is, is how he handled one instance in which a very tall, very non-sober fan stood up on his seat, turned around clapping his hands to the beat of “Sorrow” in an attempt to get the crowd to join in. “Sorrow” starts slow and builds into a more aggressive ending, and the enthused fan seemed to skip right ahead to that intense ending, clapping wildly off-beat while basically standing in front of Matt and relentlessly demanding the attention of everyone in the theater. After the first few lines of the song, Matt could not contain himself. He began laughing and asked for the song to be stopped. Now where most pretentious lead singers would either yell at the fan, or make fun of him in some way, Matt took a different approach. He kneeled down to hug the man. He then professed how he really did love the beat this man was jamming, but unfortunately it was throwing him off a bit. Then politely asked him to start over on time with the band. If he already wasn’t classy enough all suited up and slowly nursing a bottle of wine (and/or possibly champagne), he really showed his class with that move.
All around I would say it was one of the better shows I have been to in a while. And for someone who is not a big National fan to begin with, I was incredibly impressed. With that, I will wrap this up by saying, if you have the opportunity, go see this band. Preferably not in a festival setting, but a real headlong show.
Sea of Love
I Should Live in Salt
Baby, We’ll Be Fine
Don’t Swallow the Cap
Hard to Find
Afraid of Everyone
I Need My Girl
This Is the Last Time
Cardinal Song (as ‘Available’ outro)
Mistaken for Strangers
All Dolled-Up in Straps
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks