Now, I'm not much of a religious person but can at times be spiritual, mostly on the basis that there is a power greater than me and if I can trust that concept everything will be alright. That higher power for me can be many different things and in this case and after 16-plus years of listening and connecting to their music, I can say with certainty The National is a higher power for me.
Based on the sold-out crowd at the Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee, I think its safe to assume I'm not the only one who feels that way about their music. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch The National when they came through Chicago during the summer at the onset of their tour at Pitchfork Music Festival. So when I saw they were making their way back through the Midwest in Milwaukee, I didn’t hesitate to put in the request.
My first time getting to experience The National live was in 2009 at Pitchfork Fest, where they performed Alligator in its entirety and have enjoyed witnessing the elevation of their live performance more times than I can count on my hands.
A seasoned and seemingly tireless band came onstage as Matt Berninger greeted the crowd exciting them more as he reminded them being an always favorite stop on tour for the band. Based on the energy I could definitely see why. The evening’s set list was chock full of all the favorites and plenty of opportunities for the Milwaukee crowd to sing along. A few new songs were inserted in the middle of the set along with some playful back-and-forth, brotherly banter between the Dessner brothers (Aaron and Bryce).
There were aspects of Berninger’s movement all over stage (as he crooned with his somber yet soothing baritone voice) that had me imagining what Elvis’ jiving, as if possessed by something more than himself, might have been like in his day. At times, I felt like he was preaching through these relatable experiences which the crowd was totally soaking up and Berninger was totally emotionally immersed in himself. Opener Indigo Sparke joined the band onstage for "Rylan" (a personal favorite track of the most recent album, I Am Easy to Find).
The nearly two-and-half-hour set was concluded with an encore that started with their newest single, “Weird Goodbyes”; unfortunately, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, who is featured in the new song, did not make a special appearance in his home state as I had hoped. And it finished off with the closer from High Violet, “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” rounding off the band’s performance.
Don’t Swallow the Cap
Mistaken for Strangers
The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness
I Need My Girl
This Is the Last Time
*This isn’t Helping
*Tropic Morning News
Day I Die
Rylan (with Indigo Sparke)
Carin at the Liquor Store
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
*denotes new song