The National’s latest record, High Violet, is shaping up as one of my 2010 favorites. Like the band’s previous album, Boxer, it’s an almost perfect distillation of what makes the National so great: moody music with tension boiling just below the surface. The melodies may seem minimalist at first, as Matt Berninger’s conversational baritone spells out the lyrics in small gestures, the tune moving up and down by only a few notes. That first impression is deceiving, and the National’s melodies start burrowing their way into your memory.
The National played a sold-out concert Sunday (Sept. 26) at the Riviera Theatre, which was a fine opportunity for me to catch a full-length show, in contrast to my truncated experience watching the National at Lollapalooza. (Thanks to music blogger www.babystew.com for letting me use his ticket to the Riviera show, which I’d failed to plan for.) The concert drew heavily from High Violet and Boxer, with just a few older songs, including “Abel” and “Daughter of the SoHo Riots” from 2005’s Alligator.
In concert, the National raised the tension level of its most subdued songs. The harmony vocals were especially strong, as several members of the band joined their voices together with Berninger on those unforgettable choruses. The crowd sang along at key moments, too. But Berninger was the focus of attention for most of the night. Berninger began the concert closely hugging his microphone, but as the show went on, he became more animated, bouncing his microphone stand like a toy. During instrumental passages, he paced the stage, raising his clenched fists, like someone fighting off voices in his head. Berninger’s dance is awkward, lacking the typical rock-star moves, but it feels authentic. He seems to be expressing the emotion and energy he’s feeling from these songs in the only way he can. A singular rock-band frontman, he’s fascinating to watch.
It was thrilling how the National’s songs built to dramatic climaxes, and the show ended with an encore featuring three of the best: Another track from Alligator, “Mr. November,” in between two of my favorites from High Violet: “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” and “Terrible Love.” During that final song, Berninger walked out into the audience, singing out in the midst of the crowd’s voices for several minutes.
www.myspace.com/thenational / www.americanmary.com (The National website)
The Riviera concert began with a nice opening set by Owen Pallett (the artist formerly known as Final Fantasy). After the National, I ran down to Metro, arriving in time to catch 45 minutes of the concert by Caribou. The psychedelic electronic rock was a cool way to cap off an evening of great music.
I did not take photos Sunday night, but here are my previous pictures of these artists:
The National at Lollapalooza 2010
The National at Lollapalooza 2008
Caribou July 12, 2010, at the Pritzker Pavilion
Caribou at Pitchfork 2008
Caribou April 11, 2008, at the Empty Bottle
Owen Pallett April 10, 2010, at Lincoln Hall