Their sorrowful yet satire filled songs don’t play on the radio, reach the top of the iTunes charts, or have millions of likes on Facebook. Maybe you haven’t even heard of The National. Despite critical acclaim for producing consistent and emotionally driven albums, the Brooklyn based band has flown under the radar since their beginning in 1999. The band has finally been catapulted out from the underground indie rock scene and booked on the main stage with the release of their new album Trouble Will Find Me (May 20, 2013).
Thousands of fans filled Barclays Center in Brooklyn, waiting anxiously to welcome home the band that for years had only dreamed of playing at such a large venue. With their wine-filled red solo cups in hand, lead singer/songwriter Matt Berninger and the crew took the stage. Before the crowd had a chance to settle down, bright silver lights shined on the group dressed in black, the guitars and trombones went off, and Berninger was singing the new album’s opening song, “I Should Live in Salt.”
Usually a rock band begins the concert with an energizing, popular song to set the mood and excite the crowd. The National can start their concert with any song, each one having a beautiful melody and purpose. It only makes sense the band chose “I Should Live in Salt,” opening the concert just as they did their new album. The song is dedicated to Berninger’s brother Tom, who Matt feels he left behind during The National’s rise in popularity. Matt’s guilt is expressed through the lyrics: “I should live in salt for leaving you behind.” The crowd could hear Berninger’s deep cry throughout the stadium as he poured his soul on stage.
Before the crowd had a chance to calm down after hearing “I Should Live in Salt” live for the first time, the band transitioned into “Don’t Swallow the Cap”. And then “Demons”. And then “Sea of Love.” The National were so eager to play their new album they opened the concert by playing the first and most popular four songs from the new album. “Oh my God” could be heard throughout the stadium as the audience could not believe their ears.
As the concert moved on one would expect the crowd to have been wiping away tears as Berninger’s powerful and distinctive voice consumed the atmosphere. But that was not the case. By the time the trombones went off to the tune of “Bloodbuzz Ohio”, the hipster college kids and hardcore grandparents in general admission were bouncing their heads up and down as if they were at a Red Hot Chili Peppers Concert. Not one person in the stands could be spotted sitting.
The National evoke a unique energy that is almost impossible to capture: melodramatic songs filled with emotional, energetic cries that point to difficulties in love, the idea of home, and many other areas all people struggle with in life.
After performing “Fake Empire”, Berninger thanked them for coming and quickly walked off the stage. Anyone in the audience could have guessed they had a few more songs to play. Two minutes later the band returned to play their “encore,” if that term still counts. First, the band played their new song “Pink Rabbits”, a song about a broken hearted lover drinking away his sorrows with chocolate milk and tequila. The song was a setup for the band’s loudest and upbeat song “Mr. November” from the 2005 album The Alligator. Berninger literally walked through the crowd and back as he sang “I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders,” a nostalgic look possibly back to high school or college. The final song in the trio was of course “Terrible Love”, the opening song on High Violet that put The National all over Pitchfork.
As the song came to a close, the only sound left was Berninger quietly referring to his love by singing, “It takes an ocean not to break.” The crowd cheered and looked around for the exits. But the concert wasn’t over.
Berninger told the crowd that even though time was up, there was still one more song to sing. The stage lights were dimmed as the members turned off their microphones and made their way to the front of the stage. Berninger asked the crowd to join them in singing “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.” The National fan base is so unique and passionate that the band could ask the crowd to join them in singing a virtually invisible song that closes their 2011 album High Violet.
The National fan base is more than just a group of fans, it is a community that celebrates and accepts life’s struggles through the listening and playing of funny, emotional songs.