Live: The National - The Basement - 6.16.2007

Didn't anybody tell you how to gracefully disappear in a room? Well, luckily the message never made it to National lead man, Matt Beringer, either. Standing at over six feet tall, Matt is a giant (literally) walking throughout the small world that is indie rock, and growing evermore (figuratively) as his band skips across the country, winning over post-college 20-somethings everywhere with his "this is your life on the way down" lyrics delivered in one of the few baritones making waves in the genre.

Standing outside the Basement waiting for the show to start, I had no idea what to expect from the venue, and a pretty good idea of what to expect from the band. I could hear the soundcheck through the heavy door, and the band sounded tight even on abbreviated renditions of their better known tracks, so I was excited to see what would happen when 350 sweaty "neo-adults" were mixed into the equation. Little did I know that the venue was literally the size of a small bar. When I walked into the Basement, I was looking around for a stairway that would lead down to where the band would be playing (a bigger room). However, I quickly saw the stage setup (no way it could have been any larger than the kitchen at either of my college houses), and realized I was in for a treat. Furthermore, there was a bar literally 20 feet from the stage, at which I set-up shop. As people started filing into the venue, I saw a mix of mostly 25-35 year olds, that I assumed were going through the same things I am going through ("Wow, so this is what the real world is like?"), and appropriately the same things Beringer likes to sing about. I also soon realized that even though I was only twenty feet from the center of the stage, it may be difficult seeing the band from my bar stool.

Nevertheless, I sat through the opening bands (Talk Demonic and Shapes & Sizes) which were entertaining enough, but really not in the same vein as the main act (not that many bands out there are....that good). When the National took the stage, I soon transferred my seat from the bar stool to the bar top, which allowed me to perfectly see the top half of the entire band (more than I usually can see at a non-balcony, general admission show), and was completely encouraged by the venue personnel. The band opened this show, like many others on this tour, with "Start A War". While this is not my favorite track on the band's new album Boxer, I think it set the tone of the entire show. The National do what they do by setting the mood. That is not to say that they cannot rock your socks off (cough*Mr. November*cough), but it wouldn't be their style to take it to the house that early in the night. The band is one of the best out there at writing songs that can come off as "mellow" on a first listen, but turn into epics once you grow into them. The term, "brooding", has never been more appropriate. "Start A War" is a microcosm of this treatment, showing the band's teeth, but only for a moment, and just about when you think the song is going to blow up, the band holds back, and takes it back down a few notches. These acts of restraint are what set the National apart from the imitators. It is somewhat similar to the friend/family member that rarely cusses. You know that even when they say "shit" they are super pissed off, and if they drop the word "fuck" you know they mean business. The National rarely takes their act above a high simmer, but when they do, it seems like a boiling cauldron about to fall off its support.

After the opener, the band went into a steady mix of songs from their last two albums (Boxer and Alligator for those keeping score at home), never even touching anything that came out before the Cherry Tree EP. As a huge fan of all three of those releases, I was completely pleased with the song selection for the show. A mid-set "Squalor Victoria" was a pleasant surprise, which in the live setting extended into an rocking conclusion, as opposed to a studio version which felt unfinished. Right after "Squalor Victoria" the band hit their stride with a rousing version of "Baby, We'll Be Fine", whose apologetic chorus never felt more poignant than in the live setting. The band continued to thrill the crowd by playing two standout Alligator tracks, "The Geese of Beverly Road" and "Daughters of the Soho Riots". Two songs which on their own would make the National worthy of one's attention. Following an ardent version of Boxer opening track, "Fake Empire", the band launched into "Mr. November", which was easily the evening's climax. As Beringer screamed the song's chorus, everyone in the bar, including the people who barely knew the song (the cute girl sitting to my right) were singing along. Hearing 350 pre-middle aged "kids" screaming "I won't fuck us over, I'm Mr. November, I'm Mr. November, I won't fuck us over" in unison with such sentiment, honestly brought me to chills, and still does as I am typing this and listening to the song.

Obviously, the band had to depart the stage after that moment of fury, and came back out to finish the show with a very mellow encore which included Boxer closing track, "Gospel" and Cherry Tree EP standout track, "About Today". Both tracks have a feeling of closure to them, so although they are on the lighter side, they felt incredibly appropriate for the moment.

I must say that a band like the National is not for everyone. In fact, I wouldn't even recommend them to a lot of people I know just because I think they are an acquired taste not to be wasted on those not willing to invest themselves in the music. Never have I felt lyrics hit me so close to the heart. Don't get me wrong, the simmering sonic palette and rhythm section of the band are not forces to be ignored, but Beringer brings it all together with his lyrics of growing up in a world that expects us to go from age 22 to 40 in the turning of one season. It is not a realistic expectation, and Beringer brings this feeling to the forefront, making post-college students everywhere feel a little more normal. See it isn't the sad-bastard aspect that we love. It's just the idea that we aren't the only sad-bastards out there that brings us some solace. Is a little condolence too much to ask for generation Y? After all, we are the heirs to this glimmering world.



Anonymous said...

Jimmy. you're turning into quite the writer. i thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, even though as i'm sure you know i'm not quite as into the whole music scene as you are. but i'm serious, i was surprised when i saw your name at the bottom, not meant as any sort of slight.
- AB

Luke said...

sounds like you had your first experience with the venue type that I know all too well... the dank dungeon stage. It takes some getting used to, but I would take 50 people and a disgusting, sweaty show to 2,000 people and nice plush surroundings.

Oh, and i agree with AB, you've got a good style going on lately, and unlike me, you manage to stay on target the entire time.

Come out on saturday!