Live Review: The National @ Barclays Center

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photos + story / Adeline Tan

THE NATIONAL at The Barclays Center 5th June 2013 was like immersing yourself in a Sea of Love. Literally the moment the band stepped on stage the crowd erupts in pure anticipation, and every song The National performed felt like it came from the heart, from love. Earnest and resolute tunes ring out after the crowd got to take a look at their backstage ritual and some behind the scenes footage via the screen on stage.
American indie rock band The National was formed in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1999 but is now currently based in Brooklyn, New York. They have captivated audiences world wide with their dark, melancholic but complex songs. Matt Berninger, lead singer and frontman has a voice signature to the band’s distinctiveness, as a baritone he manages to sing us into a trance like state of mind, sweeping over the multitude with so much honesty. The rest of the band is composed of two pairs of brothers: twins Aaron (guitar and keyboards) and Bryce Dessner (guitar) and Scott (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums).

Their newest album was released on May 21st 2013, Trouble Will Find Me has already been critically acclaimed in the US. They opened with “Don’t Swallow the Cap” off their new album accompanied with changeable screen displays, vibrant lights and erratic (in an artsy way) graphics. Complemented by a small but noteworthy orchestra, the band delivered “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Mistaken for Strangers” with the crowd: a combination of young things, old things, hip things and gorgeous things lapping up each maudlin and morose word of it, chiming in with stirring sing-alongs.
Let me talk about Berninger. He is the definition of Mr. Intense. He has a magnificent voice: think Nick Cave meets Leonard Cohen, deep and brooding, meditative yet guilt ridden. He strides on the stage liked a confined animal, tugging and tearing at his shirt and sometimes stopping, fists clenched tight to gaze into the distance and howl unconceivable floods of torment. They performed “Squalor Victoria”, followed by “I Need My Girl” along with crowd pleasers like “Abel” from their 2005 album Alligator and “Graceless” off their latest album.
Plenty of material was played from their 2007 release Boxer as well and those songs received an exceptional response from the crowd, while the album’s outstanding opener “Fake Empire” was a monster of a tune conveyed live.
After the encore, The National played “I Should Live in Salt” which was written about Berninger’s brother. From the opening lyrics, “Don’t make me read your mind, you should know me better than that,” it was easily the most moving moment of the night. At times sounding authoritative, other times pretty and with lyrics that are more often than not contemplative.

During “Mr. November” as he has done so many times, Berninger jumped into the crowd, shouting the lyrics while scaling between fans, onto speakers, all the way to the back, then serpentining his way through the masses. Crowd glad-handing and embracing fans.
The other song that unquestionably blew my mind was the opener from High Violet, “Terrible Love”. There was no way I was expecting the band to take a serene, passive track and convert it into the powerful song it is live. The band bumps up the intensity of the song by altering the structure, and Berninger delivered some of his most impassioned vocals of the night during this tune.
The band was so remarkable from the beginning of the show to the stunning encore that it is tough to pick out a single, ultimate moment from the performance. Love it or hate it, it’s an extraordinarily powerful concert, giving color to the lyrics and melodies of some stimulating and well-conceived songs.
The National’s concert was definitely memorable, dark, enigmatic and intelligent. Their songs creep up on you, nag at your consciousness and ensnare your soul. It is both the sensitivity and the self-awareness that makes their live performances and music exquisite. 24 songs, enchantingly delivered.

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