Saturday, May 18, 2013

The National at The State Theater in Ithaca

The National opened their world tour at the State Theater in Ithaca Thursday night.  I was not sure what to expect.  I saw their last show when they closed out their High Violet tour in New York and by then they had worked the set into perfection.  As I sat down for Thursday's show I could practically still hear Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks as it closed that last tour--it was sublime.
The setlist for this first show of the new tour included 10 of the songs they played at that last show in New York in December, 2011.  But it also had 10 songs from their new release Trouble Will Find Me.  The mix of old and new worked well.  I love how aggressively The National include new songs in their shows.  The new disc is not even out yet, but they are confident enough about the material to have it comprise half the show.  It did not disappoint. 

They began with the new Don't Swallow the Cap, (which would have fit right into High Violet), then went into Bloodbuzz, Ohio and another new one called Sea of Love.  The three songs together got the show off to an intense start, driven relentlessly by the amazing drumming of Bryan Devendorf.  The venue did not lend itself to people to being up and able to move to the music, so the energy in the crowd felt a bit restrained, but the audience certainly responded enthusiastically to the new songs right away.
Matt Berninger did not include much banter from the stage between songs, but he seemed relaxed and in good spirits.  He joked a few times with audience members who shouted out requests.  At one point he gestured out at three specific places and said in his barritone, "No. No. And No."  He went on to explain that The National are not the sort of band to accept requests--they plan their setlist carefully and stick to it.  He was not being an asshole, just explaining that calling out requests was pointless.
For someone who talks about being uncomfortable in the role of frontman, Berninger seemed totally at ease on the stage.  Maybe it's just the wine, but I don't think so.  He, and the rest of the band, seem like people who have put in their 10,000 hours and now just kick ass at what they do.  And what they do is write complex music with deceptively simple, repetitive lyrics that are more like supercharged poems and then deliver these songs live with stellar musicianship and Matt Berninger's wine-soaked baritone.  
Speaking of The Voice, there are a few songs on the list that are delivered in a higher range and really stand out for the vulnerability the change introduces--Pink Rabbits and parts of Demons, specifically.  These songs make Berninger seem less The Observer (that he usually strikes me as) and more as a participant in the emotions he is singing about.  Somehow his baritone makes him seem like he is commenting on his own thoughts and feeling from a distance.  The higher voice makes things feel more immediate for me as a listener and I like how it changed things up a bit during the concert.
Highlights of the show for me were Bloodbuzz, Ohio, a haunting Daughters of the SoHo Riots, the new I Need My Girl, and all three encore songs--I Should Live in Salt, Mr. November, and Terrible Love.  This was a great start to the new tour.  Dwight Eisenhower once said "Things are more like they are now than they have ever been before."  These new songs and this show by The National made me feel the same thing about them as a band:  they are a band who is it the height of its powers as both song writers and performers.  They are more The National now than they have ever been before.

  1. Don't Swallow the Cap*
  2. Bloodbuzz Ohio
  3. Sea of Love*
  4. Afraid of Everyone
  5. Conversation 16
  6. Demons*
  7. Heavenfaced*
  8. This is the Last Time*
  9. Mistaken for Strangers
  10. Daughters of the Soho Riots
  11. Apartment Story
  12. Pink Rabbits*
  13. Humiliation*
  14. I Need My Girl*
  15. England
  16. Graceless*
  17. About Today
  18. Fake Empire
  19. I Should Live In Salt*
  20. Mr. November
  21. Terrible Love
* From Trouble Will Find Me


  1. I loved this show as well as this post but have not been able to find the band that opened for them anywhere and was wondering if you could link me to them?

    1. I liked the opening band's music a lot. Had never heard of them before. The singer/songwriter did some work with David Byrne--and their sound reminded me a bit of Talking Heads.

      They are called People Get Ready and here is a link from a review on Pitchfork:

      They also have their own website here:

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