June 8, 2010

The National Play DAR, Blow Out Eardrums

The National Concert Review - DAR Constitution Hall - June 6th, 2010

Indie-neo-post-punk staples The National got a career-defining bump this weekend - they are now too big to play the 9:30 club.  While I'm sure this was exciting for them, their managers, and their label, it was sad times for fans who crammed into the echo chamber that is DAR Constitution Hall on Sunday for the DC stop on the High Violet tour.  I shrugged off the initial sale, as I had no intentions of stepping foot into DAR again; but as the date drew closer, their infectious new album began to seep into my subconscious.  By Sunday I was ready to give it a shot and able to pick up last minute ticket releases through ticketmaster - box seats, nearly dead center stage.  Nice.

Openers The Antlers were adequate.  I wish I had more to report, but their mix was so poor that the hall completely swallowed up every nuance of musicianship that the trio had to offer.  Their offering was pretty well received by the masses, particularly the well-worn single, 'Sylvia', but it all blended to one, loud hum where we were sitting.

Thankfully, the mix for The National was better.  While the volume was still incredibly overpowering, the rich layers that the band puts together track-by-track were at least partially discernible.  The horns were definitely a nice touch (see my harsh critique of the Spoon show from earlier this year), and the lighting was superb.  During the opening track, 'Runaway', the crowd was illuminated by an eerie orange glow, followed by a brilliant star-lit disco ball swirl.  The use of color and shade was excellent throughout - a growing trend amongst mid-to-top level acts.

The energy of the band was somewhat strange.  These guys have been touring for over ten years now, so I expected a better gel of personalities.  Frontman Matt Berninger, whose velvety baritone voice was absolutely on point last night, came off as a little out of sync with himself and the audience.  There was little banter with the audience, but to demonstrate one example of his awkwardness, he dedicated 'The Geese of Beverly Road' to Mike from his wife "who really likes him."  That was really sweet.  Then there was a 30 second bit about how he said like and not love and how she fell in love with an Italian guy named Antonio but she still really likes you Mike.  It was weird.  Everybody thought so.  He apologized later.  Without a doubt Berninger is the driving force behind the band, but as a frontman, he definitely rents the stage, not owns it.

All in all it was a pretty solid show - see the scorecard for more detail on each category.  The highlight of my experience was the song 'Abel'.  By itself, the song absolutely rocks.  To add to that fact, Berninger headed out into the crowd for a little one-on-one time with the listening audience, letting us know in no uncertain terms that "[His] mind's not right..."  He was meandering through rows, jumping up on chairs, squatting on the floor, using patrons like crutches, and just generally going nuts in the crowd.  Amen brother, amen.

Mistaken for Strangers 
Anyone's Ghost 
Bloodbuzz Ohio 
Secret Meeting 
Slow Show 
Squalor Victoria 
Afraid of Everyone 
Little Faith 
All The Wine 
Conversation 16 
Apartment Story 
The Geese of Beverly Road 
Daughters Of The Soho Riots 
Fake Empire 

Mr. November 
Terrible Love 
About Today 
(setlist via setlist.fm)

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