Monday, September 24, 2007

The National, Live at the Vic

Man, I don't know what it is about the Vic, maybe just precedent set with the tremendously emotionally satisfying Rufus Wainwright concert I saw with CTLA way back in 2002, but now it seems like every time I catch a show there, I just want to weep tears of joy through the whole thing. It's a great feeling to have. (I also wouldn't discount the all-important seats-in-the-balcony factor. Yes, at times I can be the laziest woman alive who just can't be arsed to stand through a show, but the stress of being so short that one person's shoulder can ruin a sight line for the whole night is also a huge part of my concertgoing life, and so, being able to sit often makes up in true engagement with the performance what it loses in physically rocking out. All those overwhelming emotions tend to come out a little more readily when I'm not actively irritated by, y'know, other humans.)

Anyway. The National were fantastic on Saturday night. True, I was in a vastly better mood than I was when I saw them earlier this June, but they've also been touring behind Boxer for the better part of four months now, and it's clearly paying dividends at this point. They're playing those songs more confidently, the way they play the ones from Alligator. Their crashing waves of crescendo at the end of stuff like "Mistaken for Strangers" and "Start a War" feel earned and organic now, not just "might as well" to get off the merry-go-round, and their ability to change up the feel and stylistic groove of something like "Racing Like a Pro" (which they cranked down about two notches into this shuffling Pink Panther slinkiness that just about stopped my heart with its gorgeousness) is respectful of the audience's expectations while providing just enough variation to thrill. And--beware the rockist/classicist that lives in me now--I always forget that these guys are musicians. It reads even in something as deceptively simple as their stage postures. Except for Matt, roaming around like a mental patient, and Padma Newsome, occasionally, rightfully, taking his place center stage when he gets on a particularly good tear with his violin, there isn't much visible interaction between these guys. They're not getting up in each other's faces or doing scissor kicks or whatever. They're mostly just hunched over and isolated on the little islands near their monitors. But, there's something in the quality of their hunched over postures--you can tell they're listening. They're almost like old jazz guys in that way. They're listening to the space their instruments are taking up in relation to everyone else's, and they're confident that, as individuals, if they really fucking bring it on any given end-of-song build, the rest of the guys can be trusted to do the same, to spectacular effect. "Start a War," the last song before the encore, was so epic, in fact, that Matt, with nothing else to do once he was done singing the final chorus, picked up a drum stick and started beating the shit out of one of Bryan's cymbals as the outro was really cresting into a fabulous wall of noise. It was almost like, in that moment, he was the number-one fan of his own band and had to do something to express it. I mean, can you blame him?

A bit more on Matt, and his on-stage awkwardness: it's key. I know some people find his spazziness faked or disingenuous or merely irritating or whatever, but I feel like, if he came out and took the mic looking the way he does (about 17 different kinds of beautiful), in front of a band sounding the way they sound, crooning these devastatingly pretty love songs, and was all smoothy smooth in his presence and banter on top of that, he'd be, I dunno, the guy from Maroon 5 or something, which is to say, a bit gross. (No disrespect meant to Maroon 5, of course. The origins of this blog were effectively built on my affection for "This Love," and I very recently embarrassed myself in front of a sales rep at work by loudly declaring to RTW on the way into the building in the morning that if I ever had to make some extra money as a stripper, I would do so to "Makes Me Wonder." But, would I want Adam Levine to touch me with a ten-foot pole? No.) Anyway, even if the tortured sensitive guy thing is just another brand of shtick, I buy it. It just helps balance the band out a bit more for me, keeps them off-kilter in an interesting way.

For those of you who are interested in such things, I've transcribed the setlist here. You'll note that, with the exception of "About Today" from the Cherry Tree EP, which I'm so glad they've been working into their sets recently, the whole night was pulled from just Boxer and Alligator. Which makes sense, I guess, given the broader success that those albums have brought them, but why not encourage people to look into their back catalog with a little "Murder Me, Rachael" or "Patterns of Fairytales" action? But, when it comes down to it, I'd gladly give that up for the ecstatic, transcendent singalong that happened during "Apartment Story." Probably my favorite cut from the new album, and an easy contender for my 2007 year-end mix, I think it was the only song of the night that had every band member singing the chorus, and the crowd lifted their voices joyously as well. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I was nearly brought to tears when you've got a whole roomful of people shouting "so worry not / all things are well / we'll be all right" into the early fall night air. Pics from the show are up on Flickr.

You know what album's great (not that it should be any surprise)? The Sea and Cake's new one from this year, Everybody. I probably would have damned it with faint praise about a month ago by calling it good cooking music, which it still is, but it's one of those growers, as the kids are wont to call them these days, with a melodic sophistication that only reveals itself in unhurried increments. Recommended.

Gah! Hurry up and grab this Hot Chip song before Matthew takes it down! It's so good you'll kind of need to lie down in a darkened room for a while after you listen to it a couple times.


UPDATE: Remember the awesome video of the little pink-haired girl dancing to Les Savy Fav I posted here? Well, according to Pitchfork, she won whatever contest it had been originally posted to YouTube for. Congrats to Bunny! She rocks harder now than most of us ever will.

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