Thursday, May 31, 2007

The National @Bowery Ballroom, May 30th

The first time I saw The National was as a headliner at the Mercury Lounge almost two years ago. My memory of that night is hazy, as they did not go on till after midnight as the Mercury is notoriously bad about following set times, and I got pretty smashed leading up to them hitting the stage. More recently, I saw The National play twice just a few weeks ago when I saw them open for Arcade Fire, and it was a great preview of what to expect from their upcoming five night stint at the Bowery. While a few weeks ago the focus was on the Canadians, last night belonged to The National.

When I saw them at United Palace on May 7th, the sound mix seemed ill-suited for lead singer Matt Berninger's subtle but powerful baritone. Then, at Radio City they sounded fantastic and filled the venue with their music quite nicely, but the stage was too large for it to be considered an intimate affair, and the audience trickled in during the set, not realizing what a great opener they were missing. Finally, tho, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Bowery seemed just right. The floor was packed to the gills, which made manoeuvering a little difficult, but really, at the Bowery, there's not a bad spot to be found.

Notice the absence of any pics or vids of the show for this post. (For a comprehensive review with pics, head over to The Music Slut.) Last night I did something I hadn't done in a while; I left my camera in my bag and allowed myself to enjoy the evening without any concerns about where to stand or how to fiddle with camera settings. Perhaps I needed a breather after two consecutive nights of Bright Eyes.

Whatever the reasons, it was a refreshing change in pace. After I said hello to Music Slut Matt, who had situated himself up front and center, I made my way to the side on the wall by one of the stairwells, where it was more comfortable, and like I said, the acoustics are good all around.

The guys sounded amazing. Musically, their sound reminds me of a less morose Interpol (who I'm excited to be seeing next week at the Bowery too) -- that soaring sound that builds upon itself with layers created by the different instruments, but also more intricate. The National seem like a regular bunch of guys with no agenda other than to make beautiful moody music. And the lead singer is quirky enough without trying too hard. At one point, someone in the audience yelled "Stop breaking stuff!" cos he kept tripping or knocking things over as he swayed around the stage, and he laughed and even seemed slightly embarassed. "I'll try!" he sheepishly retorted.

The highlight of the evening had to be during "Abel" when Berninger slowly made his way across the stage, untangling his mic cord, and climbed from the stage onto the pile of gear in the corner on the floor, and then down into the crowd. I've witnessed singers do the let me come down and hang with you common folk thing numerous times, but for once it didn't feel contrived or have the air of Look at me! I'm a rock star!

I am almost tempted to grab a ticket for Friday's show, but I think I will stop at three gigs in a row for this week. I've already circled August 17th on my calendar, however.


I did arrive in time for most of the set by opener My Brightest Diamond, but after what sounded like a promising start, I quickly retreated to the lounge in the lower level. I no patience for Shara Worden's vocals, which was comparable to whale mating calls. I had heard a snippet of her stuff before the show, so when Wawa asked if he should bother coming early for her, knowing his tastes, I described the bit that I heard as sounding like she had swallowed a flute and was being strangled. Sadly, I don't think I was too far off. I do give her points, however, for using the kalimba...

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