The National at The Electric Factory

Filed under: Live Music — doktorjohn June 2, 2009 @ 2:12 am

May 29, 2009
Philadelphia PA
By Doktor John

This Brooklyn-based quintet is easily recognized by their manner as originally from the Midwest—Ohio to be specific. Although now signed on the Beggars Banquet label, they retain an offbeat, creative, indie style. They came on stage joined by a small brass section bringing their number to nine and opened with a truly beautiful number in the unmistakable signature sound that The National has made its own— warm, melodious, thoughtful and original. Then, without interruption went right into “Start a War,” beloved by their fans who were clearly anticipating it.

The audience of mainly clean-cut collegians was surprisingly interspersed with many white-haired elders. This is music with appeal to a variety of tastes. Front man Matt Berninger— lanky, casual, in a tie and suit —was the perfect image of an intellectual grad student. His smooth baritone vocals usually deliver the introspective, poetic lyrics in a halting, conversational style. It soon became clear however that this night they intended to perform heavy, super-charged versions of their hits. Although The National is identified with a mellow, soft-rock style, on this occasion they raised the tempo and the decibel level, aided by a massive baritone sax, a trombone and a trumpet which accompanied the electric guitar-based regulars, imparting an ultra-heavy, deep bass quality to such ordinarily sedate songs as Slow Show and City Middle.

Long and hard-rocking instrumental interludes grew into oscillating, reverberating crescendos of rhythmic feedback. The rapidly paced “Abel” transformed into a furious, driving anthem. Berninger’s casual attire and demeanor became increasingly rowdy, as he and the songs underwent a kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation into vehement hard rockers. The well-behaved crowd held back from an unruly behavior. The only thing that resembled a mosh pit was on stage, where Berninger wantonly flailed both himself and his sound equipment around.

Some new songs were mingled in, but most of the set came from the two great albums, Alligator and Boxer. After about 15 songs, which included Secret Meeting and Squalor Victoria, they took a brief break but were promptly pulled back on stage by the enthusiastic audience for another set of three or four encores, among which was the agitated and catchy Mr. November. Exhausted and drenched in sweat, Berninger smashed his mike, and they closed the show with fond farewells to the audience.

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