It took me a little while to warm up to The National initially, but once that fuzzy feedback and kicky drum beats got their hooks into me, it was all over. Lead singer Matt Berninger's voice went from being monochromatic to a wave of warm water in which I wanted to swim...
Last night's show at The Bell House in the Gowanus Canal area of Brooklyn, the first of two nights, was a hot ticket, due to the venue's size (small), the promise of new material (certain), and the limited notice of onsale (three days prior).
My "man on the ground," Russ Bleemer, sent me the following...Seems 2010 will be The Year of The National, and all the wine will, indeed, be theirs.
If the debut of the new material last night at the Bell House in Brooklyn is any indication, it's going to be quite a year for the National.
The new songs aren't all easy. But they have a big arena sound, the low-slow opening that swells to a big chorus or rave up instrumental ending that is reminiscent of the way Radiohead does Nirvana, which the Pixies basically pioneered after listening to a lot of classical music in art school.
The band is bigger now, with the keyboard/violinist they have toured with for ages, along with a second keyboard player who played for most of the show. A three-piece horn section was on stage the whole time.
If you are going tonight and have high expectations for the new songs, they will be met. But stop reading now, because there are bunch of spoilers below, though presumably tonight won't be identical. I gave The National new songs ratings below, FWIW....
The show ran exactly 90 minutes, starting at about 10:17. The opening act tonight is different, but last night, it was a sax/acoustic bass/guitar/vocalist that did a jazz set. The vocalist was pretty funny, well schooled in David Johansen's Buster Poindexter monologues, which he inserted into the songs. After a while, they veered slightly to a more Morphine-like sound, but the set remained a full-on jazz sound led by the guitarist's chords...kinda interesting. National lead singer Matt Berninger came out on their last song and sang a duet with the vocalist (which made it sound like a National song).
As for The National set...
1) They opened with "Blood Buzz," a song familiar from shows that circulated last summer. (Rating: 9)
2) New song that had a U2 undercurrent. Big key potential title line was "Didn't Wanna Be Anyone's Ghost." At the end of the song, Berninger said the song was called "Butterscotch Paraphernalia." (Rating: 8)
3) The next song, also new, was called "LIttle Blizzard." You had to be there, but this got a decent laugh. These obviously were not real titles. (Rating: 8)
4) Next song, new, had a big drum opening, then was a mellower voice/piano/bass verse that welled up into a huge full band finish. (Rating: 7)
5) "Start a War"
6) "Secret Meeting"
7) New song, short but full on Pixies soft to furious, might be called "I Am Afraid of Everyone." (Rating: 9)
8) Another new song with a refrain that sounded like "Losing my breath," with a weird funny line that stood out: "I gave my heart to the Army." Difficult to understand as the vocals were mumbly/muted, but again, same dynamics as described on 7. (Rating: 7-8)
9) "Slow Show." Berninger said his wife was really looking forward to the debut of the new songs, but got ugly-sick at the last minute and missed the show and was home, a few blocks away. He thanked her for not having to watch her be sick, and her help with "Slow Show" lyrics. He also credited her lyrics work on the next one which was...
10) "Apartment Story"
11) A new song, paced by a shaker played by the drummer, was a slow one with another hard to understand line/refrain like "I won't run--another thing coming undone." The title might be "Run Along." (Rating: 8)
12) New song called "Conversation 16." Big synth line, more like U2, again, than Nirvana. My fave new song up to this point. (Rating: 9)
13) "Abel." Crowd strangely polite and remained indie aloof.
14) New song with a big violin intro, with the violin underlying the whole song and carying a nice countermelody that soared to another big ending. (Rating: 8)
15) Set ended with "Fake Empire"--an incredible version of it, too.
16) Encore began with a new song that included the line, "I'll explain everything to the kings." Could be a good title. (Rating: 9)
17) "Mr. November." Much of it sang from the middle of the crowd, which finally lost their aloofness and got excited.
18) "Terrible Love," the song that they did on Jimmy Fallon two nights ago. Great ending, and very exciting. My fave new song, probably not surprising as I watched the video from the show repeatedly, so I was well prepared. :-) (Rating: 9)
The venue was perfect, everyone should have a Bell House in their town. Michael Stipe was hanging around...as well as a lot of media-types around us with accents, who felt the need to critique everything. And loudly. But the band? When I first saw these guys I thought they were too arty and indie-weird to make it. But now they sound ready to headline in the big places they are going to this spring, and arena headlining isn't out of the question.
The National release High Violet on 5/11.
The National - 2010 Tour Dates
26-28 MARCH: KNOXVILLE, TN - BIG EARS FESTIVAL 2010 / TENNESSEE THEATRE
22-23 APRIL: RICHMOND, VA @ THE NATIONAL
06 MAY: LONDON, UK @ ROYAL ALBERT HALL
07 MAY: PARIS, FRANCE @ LE ZENITH w/ PAVEMENT
09 MAY: BERLIN, GERMANY @ ASTRA
22 MAY: LOS ANGELES, CA @ THE WILTERN
23 MAY: SAN DIEGO, CA @ SPRECKELS THEATRE
27 MAY: OAKLAND, CA @ FOX THEATRE
02 JUNE: BOSTON, MA @ HOUSE OF BLUES
05 JUNE: PHILADELPHIA, PA @ ELECTRIC FACTORY
06 JUNE: WASHINGTON, DC @ DAR CONSTITUTION HALL
08 JUNE: TORONTO, CANADA @ MASSEY HALL
16 JUNE: NEW YORK, NY @ RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL