The National -- Radio City Music Hall 6/16/10
Three years ago, a band with a stark sound and style took the stage at United Palace Theater and opened for Arcade Fire. As this band played, I got hooked and engaged and so surprised at how good they were. The singer, before belting out into their final song, said, "Hi, we are The National, thanks for listening." I got the name and that was it -- instant fan.
Since then I have covered that band from their triumphant opening of Terminal 5 to opening for REM and Modest Mouse to Lollapalooza 2008, seeing them in every size crowd, venue and audience one could in a handful of years. Radio City was the one venue, since seeing them at United Palace, I felt would really represent them once they struck it big. Low and behold after non-stop touring and recording, the Ohio via Brooklyn boys did it -- and sold out the place!
As they arrived on stage, the five members of The National accompanied by two brass players and backing keyboardist/violinist, you could only see these tall, stick figure-like silhouettes walk across the stage to take their places as they were backlit by a bright red screen. Opening with "Mistaken for Strangers," The National seemed very nervous, tense, excited and above all overjoyed to be playing the legendary New York venue.
With their latest album, High Violet, debuting in the top 10 of the Billboard charts, a few years ago no one know would have though a band with such dark sound and stark style would really get this far. After all, they have no radio singles and are not very listener friendly at first, an acquired taste like a fine wine. However, defying all logic, they did it and broke down every barrier to sound not only perfect but put on one hell of a show. As the pounding drums to "Bloodbuzz Ohio" came on, singer Matt Berninger jumped into the crowd and literally lifted people out of their seats, a telling sign of what was to come. With a setlist that included a nice mix of songs from their last three records; Alligator, Boxer and High Violet, The National broke out many surprises through the night. Backed on many songs by a small chamber orchestra and having longtime friends of the band Sufjan Stevens and St. Vincent herself Annie Clark guest on a few songs, the momentum of the night kept getting higher and higher. As Berninger would wander around stage as if he was lost in his own party, the sets of brothers Dessner and Devendorf showed off their musical ambitions and skills to the excited crowd. The night was capped off when during the show stopping "Mr. November," Berninger would take what must have been a 500ft XLR cable on his mic across the sides of Radio City and walk up to the second floor mezzanine and walk across to come back down again and sing/scream into the crowd. As they closed with "Terrible Love," The National just raised the benchmark of themselves in New York City.
Opening the night was Brooklyn indie favorite, The Antlers, a band I had the opportunity to see when they came around to open for Editors at Terminal 5 in February. This time, things were much different. More people know about The Antlers and most of all, this was Radio City. This was not the same three piece band I saw in February, this was a band that hired other musicians to help carry out their sound and fill the room. Not only did they achieve it with such high standards, they excelled out of this orbit. Simply stunning and amazing arrangements of their songs from their debut Hospice, The Antlers even squeezed in a untitled new song into their 45 minute set. As what happened to The National that night at United Palace some years ago, I believe the torch has been handed over to The Antlers and this is a band to not keep an eye out for, but to watch as they grow into something very big.