The National had a big week. The band returned from a European tour on Monday. "High Violet", its glorious new album, came out Tuesday. Members turned a vacant store into a gallery and performance space. And Saturday the hometown boys floored a sold out crowd at BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House.
My only reservation going into the show was the venue. Not that BAM isn't one of the most revered cultural institutions in the city. It's just that when I'm going to a rock show, I prefer general admission tickets that won't pin fans down to assigned seats and impede spontaneous rocking out.
Frontman Matt Berninger allayed all fears moments into the third song, "Bloodbuzz Ohio", when he jumped off the stage and into the front rows of the orchestra section, literally pulling the audience to its feet, where it remained for the rest of the show. Despite some critics who dismiss The National's studio work as uniformly and tediously mellow, Berninger & Co., in the words of Spinal Tap, went to 11 for their live show.
The set list was heavy on new material, with fan favorites from previous albums ("Fake Empire", "Slow Show", "Apartment Story," "Secret Meeting") making much-appreciated appearances. The National's music sustains a melancholy mood even as it crescendos from somber quiet, with Berninger's striking baritone front and center, into blistering symphonic climaxes so rich and layered different member's input will hook you each listen. A rollicking four-song encore mirrored that progression and found Berninger essentially climbing on audience members' shoulders as he made his way to the back of the auditorium during "Mr. November". He barely missed a beat.
But if the main event revolved around "brooding...songs that can make your heart hurt," the ZYNC by AMEX-sponsored after party nearby pumped out party songs ranging from Prince to LCD Soundystem, which might have been the only local rock outfit without a member present.
There was the incongruous spectacle of oft-angsty indie players Stevens, Berninger and Parry busting a move to "Let's Go Crazy" and the suspender-clad Parry, that great redwood of a double bassist/keyboardist/accordionist/celesta player overcoming momentary embarrassment after dropping his cocktail glass to work his happy feet some more.
Photo 1 via Vevo. Check more video footage here.
Photo 2 via Andrea Chalupa's iPhone