The National played at the Greek Theater in Berkeley last month supporting their May 2013 release Trouble Will Find Me almost a year after it’s release. The band were in fine form, driving their slow burning moody compositions to lovely crescendos – punctuating dark passages with horns and carefully placed guitars and keys to enliven the procession. This American indie band consists of Matt Berninger (lead vocals), twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner (guitars, keys, vocals) and brothers Bryan and Scott Devendork (bass and drums respectively). I’ve heard their music compared to the likes of Joy Division though their overall sound is completely current, and a bit hard to nail down – lots of downbeat tracks, though so many of them building to a triumphant impression. Matt is a baritone and as such inhabits the sound spectrum at the low end, spilling out his unique lyrics, huddling over his mic, or stalking the stage to accentuate the sound of their work. This time out, the band backed the volume down during key passages, allowing Matt to be heard clearly and gain additional dynamics in the mix – a clever way to help connect him and the band to the audience. The show was a wonderful demonstration of their wares – the best yet for this viewer.
Tracks selected weighed heavily on their most current release, along with a handful from High Violet (2010), and a small selection from both Boxer (2007) and Alligator (2005). Near the end of the main set, they included a nice rendition of the track “About Today” from the Cherry Tree EP (2004).
Of special note this time out was their lighting and backdrops which alternated between evocative psychedelic projections, and slightly obscured video of band members as they performed. These visuals reflected the mystique of their music and added interest to the live experience.
In these pages I most often write about “progressive rock” and similar sounds that tend towards the more esoteric side of the musical spectrum. The National, though firmly in the “indie” or “alternative rock” genre, still inhabit a part of that adventurous territory where thoughtful lyrics, creative compositions, blends of acoustic and electric instruments and strange-but-beautiful music that builds on dark themes live. THis is one of a few bands where a brooding baritone can inspire an entire crowd to sing along joyfully to a mournful song. A highly recommended experience.
Appendix: Complete Set List:
Don’t Swallow the Cap (Trouble Will Find Me)
I Should Live in Salt (Trouble Will Find Me)
Bloodbuzz Ohio (High Violet)
Demons (Trouble Will Find Me)
Sea of Love (Trouble Will Find Me)
Hard to Find (Trouble Will Find Me)
Afraid of Everyone (High Violet)
Squalor Victoria (Boxer)
I Need My Girl (Trouble Will Find Me)
This is the Last Time (Trouble Will Find Me)
Santa Clara (Boxer)
All the Wine (Alligator)
Slow Show (Boxer)
Pink Rabbits (Trouble Will Find Me)
England (High Violet)
Graceless (Trouble Will Find Me)
About Today (Cherry Tree)
Fake Empire (Boxer)
Mr. November (Alligator)
Terrible Love (High Violet)
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks (acoustic) (High Violet)
I saw more than a few tears during this final encore – also the last track on High Violet. The band all came up to the front of the stage and played this soulful ditty in an acoustic, heartfelt rendition – a perfect ending to a beautiful night.