What can I say about The National show on Monday that I haven’t said a million times before? They raise the bar on what a live show should be. They can move you on a physical and emotional level. They incite feelings of bliss while performing songs of utter despair. They are THE band to see.
But sadly, Denver was the last stop on the North American High Violet Tour, so if you missed it, you’ll have to head over to Europe to catch it. I hear Copenhagen is nice this time of year.
The National at The Fillmore had me worried. Well, maybe not worried, but slightly concerned. This would be my 5th time seeing The National and I had a group with me that had never seen them before. Expectations were high and I had set some of those expectations. I had no doubt the band would perform at the level that is now expected of them, but I was just worried The Fillmore was too large of a space to really allow for the intimacy that I’ve become accustom to at these shows. The first time I saw The National was at Radio City Music Hall in May of 2007. This was a couple weeks before Boxer came out and they were opening for Arcade Fire. I was 7th row center and one of the very few who showed up early enough to catch their set. The last time I saw them was from the 9th row of the 1,900 person Spreckels Theater in San Diego. A show where we were treated to a personal rendition of About Today after having back and forth banter with Matt Berninger from the 2nd row during the encore.
The Fillmore is a large auditorium and when bands play there, it’s a concert, not a show. Unlike Larimer Lounge, Bluebird or even Odgen…the band is separate from the crowd. Stationed up on the huge stage, looking down on the minions below. The entertainers up above, the fans down below. But somehow The National managed to crush that dividing line and put on a show that made every one of the thousands of people in the crowd feel special. If your favorite song is Apartment Story, Matt was singing it to you. If you prefer the screaming climax of Mr. November, then Matt was telling YOU that he won’t ‘fuck you over’. During Terrible Love, he even came into the audience and walked slowly through a crowd, whom parted like the Red Sea, to the very back of the auditorium, before turning around and walking back. If not ‘of the people’ or ‘by the people’, The National have one thing in common with the country they are nationals of…and that is ‘for the people’. From beginning to the end, the show went by in a flash, and it felt like it was my show.
My wife and I have a special bond with this band. We met in San Francisco and Alligator and Boxer were the soundtracks to our lives back there. About Today is the song we left the city to and the song we arrived in Denver to. ‘Tired and wired, we ruin too easy’ has so many references to the city, and ‘break my arms around the one I love‘ always makes me think of her. Even ‘I tell you miserable things after you are asleep’ has become an inside joke. So the fact that I was able to finally bring her to a show, and the fact that we got the front table at The Fillmore, was awesome! I don’t have any other word to explain it. She had a direct view of the band, and for once she could actually see the show the whole time. From Matt‘s schizo persona (arms flailing, head jerking, seemingly talking to himself between verses) to the Dessner brothers with their guitars above their heads…she could see it all. I highly recommend getting a table for shows like this. The only time I had to get up was for Abel and Mr. November. For me, there will be no sitting during those songs!
‘FUCK RED ROCKS!’ OK, now that’s new. Standing onstage at The Fillmore, saying ‘fuck’ the (arguably) best venue in the United States? Wow! But, I do understand it. It was just minutes before that my friend, who had seen them open for R.E.M. at Red Rocks, told me how this crowd was so much different. Back when they played Red Rocks, they were playing to an R.E.M. fanbase who just weren’t so into The National. Monday night was a whole different story.
So, to sum this up, it was another moving show by one of the best (maybe even THE best) bands working today. As time goes on, I’m thinking High Violet is another classic album that will stand up with Boxer and Alligator. Seeing the new material live is mind-blowing. The band was also a lot more talkative this time, telling jokes to stay sane on the road. And Matt was much more sober, only drinking a couple glasses of wine, instead of bottles. The setlist included material from the past 3 albums without any glaring holes (in hindsight, I would have liked Secret Meeting and Sorrow)…but they didn’t end with About Today. I was really hoping they would for my wife, but it wasn’t in the cards. What they did instead almost made up for it though…an acoustic, acapella version of Crybaby Geeks that the audience could barely stay silent for.
In the words of another friend, the show ‘met and exceeded very high expectations’.