The National played the Beacon Theater all this week, and last night the band hit its stride. Frontman Matt Berninger, who bears a striking resemblance to actor Kevin Kline in person, was very comfortable in the space. He swapped jokes in between songs and let loose sometimes explosive energy during them. The band’s amble from backstage to front was streamed live onto a huge movie screen; with cameras set up all around the stage, there’d be live footage all night.
Berninger’s classic baritone warmed up with “Thirsty” off of Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers. As the lights went up you could see he wouldn’t be as lonely as some of his songs would make him out to be. The National performed with up to eight additional musicians. There was a string quartet and a horn section flanking the band on either side. Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak guest appeared on guitar for a few songs. It wasn’t so crowded though; guitarist Bryce Dessner found enough room to go center stage and take his axe down on one knee before the front row. He’d repeat that action a few times over the night and got so close you could reach out and touch him. The band was showcasing its latest efforts, playing seven of 11 tracks off of the critically acclaimed High Violet.
If all you’d heard from the National was “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” which was making the rounds on a lot of “best of” lists this time last year, you might take the band as sort of low key. Berninger’s voice is indeed well suited for NyQuil ads, yet he’s able to ramp up the decibels and deliver a full-on scream. The band did “Abel” off of Alligator, and Berninger gave his cords a pretty brutal trashing. “My mind’s not right!” he shrieked over and over in the chorus. Behind him a clip from Night Of The Living Dead played in a loop while bursts of blood red exploded all over the screen. It was either during that song or a throat-lacerating take of “Mr. November” that Berninger spiked the microphone like a touchdown pass into the stage. The National is anything but tame.
Closing with four encores, the band played a new song called “I Need My Girl,” an acoustic heart-string puller about a rough world closing in. “Exile Vilify,” which the band recorded for a video game, Portal 2, had a simulated snow storm on screen. The set wound down with two more tracks from High Violet, “Terrible Love” and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” which the band and guests did all acoustic. As the show ended, those in the front row all stuck their hands out to Berninger for a shake. He obliged, and as he bent down a woman reached up and dug both hands into his beard.
Photos by Alex Eriksen.