October 1, 2007
Brooklyn-based and Ohio bred, this deadpan quintet create a deep, cerebral sound, that at times goes so far as to sound a bit like Interpol- in the realm of well-woven instrumental structure (without the cool, oblique approach); with a vocal nod to Stuart Staples of UK’s Tindersticks (without the ornate orchestration), for the morose context of the lyrics and delivery. With this lineage- it would seem that it all gets back to Bryan Ferry; also Leonard Cohen with a touch of the Smiths, Nick Cave and even Ian Curtis, just to brighten things up a bit. The band appeared at Berbati’s back in June and returned to Portland four months later at the Crystal Ballroom in support of their May release, The Boxer.
Tall, lanky lead singer Matt Berninger sings thoughtful understated lyrics with a depressed baritone, over closely woven guitars, provided by brothers Dessner, Aaron and Bryce: although a delegation of duties is not only pointless- it is inaccurate as members of the National switch around on instruments more frequently than do the members of Arcade Fire- which is often.
Drummer Bryan Devendorf is an absolute monster, punching huge big-beats into songs- when called for; while delicately adding the softest percussive touches on others. Bryan’s brother Scott doubles up on bass and keys-even mandolin and violin- when called for. The National are nothing, if not versatile.
And dedicated to their fans. Berninger went out of his way to wish a happy birthday to one of their myspace fans. And fans aplenty there were. The entire audience at the Crystal crowded the stage for the entire performance. Berninger’s earnest sincerity and obvious passion create an intimate atmosphere and the band are superior at giving each song its due.
The band played selections primarily from their past two releases, 2005’s Alligator, along with most of the songs from Boxer. Highlights were the understated “Start A War” “Green Gloves,” “Ada,” “Racing Like A Pro “and “Baby We’ll Be Fine;” the syncopated “Slow Show;” and the more intense “Mistaken For Strangers” (highlighted by Bryan Devendorf’s Bonham-esque drum work), “Apartment Story,” “Secret Meeting.”
But the show is Berninger’s his smoldering intensity and intimate relationship with his lyrics, forces an audience into his world- which is not necessarily an easy one to enter- with its converging imageries of love, depression and social upheaval all stirred together.. Still, in two short years, through the course of a relentless touring schedule, The National have created for themselves a distinct and dedicated fan base- which is sure to grow in years to come. This is a band on the way up- still in the discovery stage as to its own identity. The best is yet to come.