Photo by Toby Tenenbaum for Brooklyn Vegan
The first night of their marathon week at the Beacon Theater in NYC featured a spectacular lighting rig, visceral projections, and a solidification of The National
as a band to be reckoned with, even if half the bros in attendances didn't know any of the words. Coming off a year and a half of touring on 2010's excellent High Violet
, the band might have felt a bit strange being back in New York in such a historic hall for a six night run, but it didn't matter. Matt Berninger was sipping on Cincinnati sangria and sporting his signature suit coat, being awkward and wonderful as the band ripped through favorites from their impressive discography.
The War on Drugs opened, although their awesome sonic constructions seemed lost on the thin crowd of early birds. They are ironically titled, Berninger later observed, "because I saw them doing a bunch of drugs before the show." Heh. The War On Drugs was coming off a sold-out show at Bowery, and their album Slave Ambient
has been the subject of much praise. After talking to Adam Granduciel about the hours of painstaking work on his guitars
, "beautiful noise" seemed an apt description. Last night, he confirmed it.
The visually neutral stage came to life when it was time for The National (at 9:10 sharp). The projection screen that adorned the stage behind the band opened up several visual possibilities, all of which were exploited. First, the band's name appeared (in their preferred purple hue), exciting the crowded hall. Then a camera followed the group from drinking in the green room all the way to the stage door. During the set, live images of the band were juxtaposed with affecting imagery, to create a sort of living collage that changed with every song. The highs and lows of "I'm Afraid Of Everyone" and "Squalor Victoria" were that much more visually compelling, in addition to Matt's spasms and screams.
The National delivered on their usual prescription of baritone-fronted poem-rock. The band played two new ones, the moody "Rylan" and "I Need My Girl," road songs that (hopefully) signify another National album in the near future. They sang about brains. Matt oscillated from a low sultry rumble to vocal-chord busting screams. "Mr. November" was epic. Matt walked among the crowd. It was everything we'd expected.
There are still five more chances to catch this epic end-of-the-year occupation. Tonight's sequel (The National 2: Electric Boogaloo
) features opening duties by Sharon Van Etten.