The National @ Stage AE 6/11

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Welcome to Part 2 of the THE, LIKE OHMIGOD, MOST AMAZING CONCERT WEEK IN PITTSBURGH INDIE-ROCK HISTORY edition of the 30Hz Rumble. I’m sure everyone’s got an old story about how they saw The National playing their grandmother’s powder room. Small venue stories for a band that’s been around for a decade are de rigeur. That said, I first saw The National at Lollapalooza in 2008. They played an afternoon set. I walked up five minutes before they began playing and had a spot right next to the stage. And this was approximately a year after the release of The Boxer. In broad absolutely flipping daylight. I’d missed seeing them on a few occasions in Boston and was ecstatic to get a chance to finally see the band. Fast forward two records and you’ve got this:

Almost descript The National blobs playing "Anyone's Ghost."

Almost descript The National blobs playing “Anyone’s Ghost.”

As opposed to the Alt-J show the prior night, The National can’t help but own whatever space they play. I’ve seen them outside. I’ve seen them in a library. And now I’ve seen them in the 2000+ capacity Stage AE. Lead singer Matt Berninger embodies the gut punch/imperfect perfection model of frontmanning. At one point he just forgot a repeated line in “Green Gloves” and shrugged it off, threatening to play the song over again to get it right because that was the best line in the song. At every show he starts out a little tentative, a little tic-laden but the man gets geared up, like a 747 for takeoff, with a little gumption and some (and by some, I mean lots of) vodka in a Soho cup. By the time he screams the finale of “Squalor Victoria,” he’s airborne. In this show he broke three microphone stands and just threw the microphone at least as many times, if that gives you any indication of how the man attacks his duties. By the time he made his traditional Matt Berninger slog through the crowd during “Mr. November” I didn’t know if it was the vodka or the audience keeping him upright. He brushed by me and clotheslined me with his microphone wire. Twice. There’s nothing perfect or pleasant about his performance while he’s being mobbed by hundreds of fans. But the song is The National’s coup de grace, the final kick to the testicles. When you’re listening, idly, to the band on your iPod or computer, the full range of emotion is neutered by the inherent nature of recorded material. It’s not that reproduction is emotionless, but The National’s live show is an amplification of the beauty and rage and sadness and joie de vivre contained within their music. The way live music should be.

But back to the part about The National being motherflipping rock stars. The band commands the stage. Last night they weren’t overly affable or talky. They’ve been moreso in the past. During the show at the Carnegie Library Music Hall a couple years ago, Berninger shared a couple of stories about growing up in Cincinnati, visiting Pittsburgh frequently and eventually how they played some tiny venues to little fanfare. There was some mention of those lackluster days of yore playing the Club Cafe, but they were casual discards, buying time as band members swapped instruments. It was just enough talky interaction to engage the crowd and get back to blowing our collective minds. It was the lights, the 60′ video screen turning them into silhouettes. It was the Dessner brothers raising their goblets of rock as they, pardon my lingo, shredded. Yeah, that’s right. Shredded. Apparently more comfortable in their “rock star” status than in past, more understand performances.

The unsung hero of the National, clouded perhaps by the down tempo nature of much of their music is drummer Bryan Davendorf, the man who would be Tommy Chong in wristbands if he weren’t a drummer for a brilliant indie-rock band. During your next listen of The National, isolate the drum track. He is the backbone over which all of that gooey, brilliant humanity is draped. His parts aren’t easy; he just makes them sound that way. The National proved they can command any size stage, playing every song like a #1 Billboard charter. The crowd lost some of it’s mojo during new tracks from Trouble Will Find You, but not its rapt attention. It wasn’t until after the show that I realized the band failed to play my personal favorite track “Slow Show” from The Boxer. It just didn’t matter. Despite some curious setlist omissions of old standbys (No “Murder Me, Rachel” or “Mistaken for Strangers”), there was no cause to idly check my phone or tweet snark about the lovers quarrel to my left. You make amends to finish a National show. You just do. For the entirety of their near two-hour performance, we were all drinking from the Matt Berninger Soho juice. And it was glorious.

Tonight I’ll be back at Stage AE, checking in with the Icelandic folkers Of Monsters and Men with the conclusion of this three-part THE, LIKE OHMIGOD, MOST AMAZING CONCERT WEEK IN PITTSBURGH INDIE-ROCK HISTORY digest.

Also, one final note about The National’s opening act, The Dirty Projectors. I know they have their loyal followers, but I don’t get the appeal. Cacophony turned up louder, does not make cacophony sound any better.

 

The National’s setlist, for those that care:

I Should Live In Salt
Anyone’s Ghost
Don’t Swallow the Cap
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Sea of Love
Slipped
Afraid of Everyone
Conversation 16
Squalor Victoria
I Need My Girl
This is the Last Time
Green Gloves
Pink Rabbits
Abel
Apartment Story
England
Graceless
About Today
Fake Empire

Encore:
Humiliation
(Hard Rock Outro)
Sorrow
Mr. November
Terrible Love
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
(Acoustic)

Again, I will leave you with some music to go. This time, with the song I wished The National had played last night.

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