Friday, December 16, 2011

Live Review - The National @ Beacon Theater

If someone told The National a few years ago that they would be headlining six pact nights at New York’s legendary Beacon Theater, they would have probably laughed in your face. The Brooklyn via Midwest band have been rising stars since the release of their 2005 release, Alligator, yet as they conclude the touring cycle of their most successful release, one of last years best, High Violet, they return back to their roots in New York City for an epic week of close-out specials.

For these special concerts at the Beacon, The National wanted to take fans through a timeline of their music and make each night special and separate from the last. Night four of their six night stay the band dug deep in their catalog but also showed-up to play fan favorites. As the lights dimmed just after 9pm, and Duran Duran’s “Wild Boys” was blaring through the speakers, the giant screen that is behind the bands gear began showing live video of The National backstage getting ready, mixing drinks and walking to the stage. As they strutted onto the legendary stage and backed by a horn section and small four-piece orchestra, the bands front man Matt Berninger leaned into his microphone and gave a deep “thank you” before walking to the drum kit to fix himself a drink. Opening with the somber “Thirsty,” then going into “Anyone’s Ghost” and “Baby, We’ll Be Fine,” The National were only getting their feet wet. Then as “Bloodbuzz Ohio” the Beacon, as one would expect with such a bombastic song, erupted. With support from Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak (who opened) on guitar for “Bloodbuzz” and many of the songs from the night, the song was even more thunderous than usual.

In between songs, Berninger would talk more than I have personally ever witnessed and seeing the band seven times, this was unusual but welcomed banter between songs. His stories would range from how he had gone running earlier in the day and cannot move to the bands first appearance at SXSW in 2002 and forgetting the lyrics to nearly every song he had written. The stories brought the audience closer to the band that remain very tight and quiet about their private lives and their inner realm. The National took fans back to their beginnings with old songs like “Driver, Surprise Me” and “Son” then erupted in the fury again with “Abel.” With a majority of songs coming off High Violet, The National did spread their wings. As they walked off the stage after their closing staple, “Mr. November,” the audience was content with what they had just gotten.

As they emerged from the wings for their encore, The Nationals lush and layered sound was brought to an acoustic level when they played a brand new song, “I Need My Girl.” It was an encore that also saw a B-side “Exile Vilify,” performed as well as “Terrible Love.” Yet, to close out this show in a fashion only The National could, guitarist and musical arranger Bryce Dessner told the crowd how they were really going unplugged and wanted everyone to sing-along for “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” again with support from Wye Oak, the band stood on stage playing and the crowd sang the words – a beautiful and perfect way to close out a beautiful and perfect night.

As we mentioned earlier, Baltimore duo Wye Oak opened the show. With each night of The Nationals six night stay, different support acts were hand-picked by the band. Wye Oak have had a great 2011, as they opened the year opening for The Decemberists at the Beacon, they close it opening for The National. The duo consists of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack and plays a very cerebral and layered form of indie rock. With Wasner’s haunting vocals and interesting guitar playing and Stacks drumming and simultaneous keyboard playing, he looks like Ray Manzarek and Bonzo all over the kit and keys. With his legs flopping around like a fish controlling his multi-pedals and Wasner shredding during the break-downs of their music, Wye Oak have developed a sound that is very special and the Beacon was the perfect setting to experience it.

The National 12/15/11 Beacon Theater Set List:

Anyone's Ghost
Baby, We'll Be Fine
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Slow Show
Squalor Victoria
Afraid Of Everyone
Conversation 16
Driver, Surprise Me
Fake Empire
Mr. November


I Need My Girl
Exile Vilify
Terrible Love
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks