Sunday, May 16, 2010

The National @ BAM

The National
@Brooklyn Academy of Music Howard Gilman Opera House
Brooklyn, NY - May 15, 2010

Years ago, the biggest band in Indie was the Arcade Fire. Premised on one record. And during their run for that record, they had as an opening act the National. Some five, six years later, the Arcade Fire are something of an occasional project that are thought of with more nostalgia than anything else. And the National have continued to rise and rise, in both popularity, praise, and in their own sense of sound and intensity. Record after record, show after show, the National build and build. Alligator may or may not prove to be the peak of their albums, but they have been riding a wave ever since, and right now, everything they touch turns to gold.

This charity show, filmed by DA Pennebaker, and broadcast live on YouTube (and archived here) was an Event. Capital E. Not because of the acclaimed filmmaker documenting it, not because of the celebrities in the crowd, but because the band made it so. People came to SEE and HEAR this band. And they got what they came for. During the immense "Bloodbuzz, Ohio", Matt Berninger made his way out into the crowd and lifted up by hand the seated members of the audience. Just because the National are a band for people with substance doesn't mean the people with substance can't let loose. It's in that way that a band that is sometimes as right and proper as the National can still lay claim to being a rock n roll band.

And the band radiated for all this. In the shine of all the lights from the broadcasting cameras, the National - joined by Padma, and Sufjan, and the rest of their extra bandmates - coursed through High Violet, a record that even with some soggy mid tracks, has enough of that rising tide of shimmering glow that define the band. The National probably break the record for most songs that give goosebumps.

Not to be outdone by the new record, prior successes found new ways to sparkle. "Apartment Story" has reached a new high, becoming something of an anthemic rock song. "All the Wine" is showcased as the heart-pumper it is, though it is being toyed with and reshaped as in an experiment. "Abel" and "Mr. November" remain the showstoppers, your last glimpses of the time our baritone vocalist screamed till he sounded like he bled. Like the last time the National played BAM, Berninger took it to the crowd over and above and across the seats, but this time all the way to the back and practically out the door. Again, despite their sometimes rigid milieu, the National are a ROCK band and you did come to see a rock show.

Perhaps enthused and embued with the energy of the crowd, and the momentum of all the new record is bringing, the National were as talkative and happy as I've ever seen them. Matt wasn't just doing his hypnotic fits, he was letting us know he was enjoying doing them. Good lord, there was even lengthy joking banter between the band. Everything clicked.

So this band is an event. But they make that connection on an intimate level. And this band is in some snazzy company. But they aren't part of a hard-to-figure-out elite. They're just some guys from Cincinnati who moved to Brooklyn and play in a band and they just so happened to become the best at what they do.

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