October 19, 2010
This has really been a breakthrough year for The National. After years of quietly putting out great records, they are now sitting comfortably in that elite class of top tier indie rock bands with High Violet hitting #3 on the album charts and the band selling out large-sized theatres (including legendary venues like Radio City Music Hall) across the U.S. I’ve seen the band play three festival sets, and have loved each of them but those didn’t compare to seeing the band at The Pageant, a beautiful theater in the Delmar Loop part of St. Louis. The band’s frenetic chamber rock is meant to be heard in this type of environment and they absolutely nailed their performance.
Opening up for The National was violinist extraordinaire Owen Pallett, who released an incredible album called Heartland early this year and has been touring non-stop ever since including shows with Arcade Fire and Dirty Projectors. I must say that his presence was a big factor in my attendance to this show and he didn’t disappoint me with his performance. Except for Andrew Bird, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a more impressive display of looping then with what Mr. Pallett presented during his short set.
Also like Bird, he switches from plucking the violin strings to using the bow all while singing and playing keyboards. Unlike the last time I saw him, he had an additional multi-instrumentalist on stage with him to add some much-appreciated percussion, bass, and guitar. It’s certainly a fun act to watch and Owen has some fantastic songs to back it up like “Keep the Dog Quiet”, “Lewis Takes Action” and the terrific set-closer (plus one of my favorite songs of the year) “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”.
The National are known for their dynamic performances and this was very visible from the very start of the night. The band opened with a slow build, playing two of the softer songs from High Violet, “Runaway” and “Anyone’s Ghost” before unleashing a crowd favorite, the rapturous “Mistaken For Strangers” and then following that up with the driving intensity of “Bloodbuzz Ohio”. Their loud/soft range was evident throughout the night and the band also balanced a good deal of humor in their stage banter with their particularly moody, bummed out songs.
One of the most memorable moments occurred when lead singer, Matt Beringer announced they were going to have a crowd-determined contest to see who’s the best looking member of the band and then began to sway us towards himself. The Dressner brothers revealed that this is why they call him “Dick Jagger”. Another funny moment occurred before my favorite song on the new album “Conversation 16” in which Beringer described it as a song about marriage before deciding that was too boring and saying it’s a song about “marraige and cannabilism”. That led off into a pretty hilarious discussion on whether the eating of brains in the lyrics was literal or figurative.
I enjoyed that the setlist was varied between all the bands albums with tracks as old as “Available” and “Cardinal Song” from Sad Songs From Dirty Lovers being played, plus a handful from Alligator (still my favorite from them by the way) and Boxer and almost all of High Violet. All the songs hit their mark but there were a few that stood out like “Squalor Victoria” which had Beringer pacing the stage and screaming into the mic like a madmen while Bryan Devendorf played a thundering drum beat. “Abel” is another hard-hitting song that I’ll never tire of hearing and had fans singing their lungs out in unison at the chorus. Many of the best moments though, were the ballads like “Slow Show”, “England” and “Afraid of Everyone” which were delivered as passionately as the fist-pumpers and really came alive in the theater’s intimate setting.
The band’s encore performances was one of the best I’ve seen in a while, starting with a spine-tingling acoustic performance of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”. The band then proceeded to blow everyone away with what may be their most beloved song “Mr. November”. Shouting along to “I won’t f*** us over, I’m Mr. November” along with the rest of the crowd stands among my top rock show experiences. The closer for the night, “Terrible Love” was just as epic, with Beringer leaping over the guard rails and singing the last stanza of the song literally inches from my face. With their powerful and engaging live performance, The National have shown yet again, that they are one of the greatest rock to emerge in the last ten years. I just hope they’ll continue to make great albums and put on shows like this one for the next ten.
There’s more The National / Owen Pallett pictures after the jump. Click here for the entire set.