There was a period in my past life when it seemed like a school year’s seasonal change I was getting to cover a National show. Spring is here and like the change of season The National have returned to Chicago. This time on seemingly a much grander scale and to kick off their tour supporting their recently released ninth album, The First Pages of Frankenstein. That aforementioned grander scale including a four-night residency at the Auditorium Theatre and a pop-up shop at the nearby bookstore Exile in Bookville. In past shows they’ve mentioned Chicago feeling like a hometown for them and from what I could tell they had settled in nicely.
If you were at The Walkmen show at Metro the Wednesday before their first show and paid attention you would’ve caught a few of the members up the balcony supporting their Brooklyn brethren. The fact that all four nights were sold out clearly Chicago happily embraces them as our own as well. Whether it was something I didn’t really pay attention to in past shows or just an adapted or evolved culture as they matured as a band that celebrated the show experience from the fans perspective similarly to jam bands like Phish, Grateful Dead and even Pearl Jam. This takes them away from those “cookie cutter” bands who have a tendency to follow a recipe of nearly identical set list each night and affects the show experience depending on which leg of the tour they visit your city. This isn’t to say those aren’t enjoyable performances but the predictability of them eliminates a uniqueness and almost a celebration of that specific evening and more importantly for the fan the decided set list for the performance.
This being the final of the band’s four night stand there were many National fans on hand with predicted songs not played yet they were hopefully anticipating and as my buddy next to me confirmed at the end of the show the bend did not disappoint. I should also quickly mention the age range of the evenings crowd was across the board, I can assure you it was not an auditorium filled only with the “sad dads” because they brought their daughters and wives and everyone else in between. As a longtime fan as prefaced in my previous review from back in the Fall...I am excited to see the overall appreciation and range of generations their music speaks to. A more reserved and tidied up Matt Berninger arrived onstage since their previous tour as they kicked off the set with four songs from their new record.
Whether his appearance signifies a well rested Matt or just a Frankenstein’s monster still lying dormant waiting for the evening’s lightning to strike, we’d have to let the set unravel and reveal the truth. That reservation of manner seems to be attached to his mic stand as he seems to stay close to it in the opening handful of songs, making exploratory walks around stage near fans but not too far from that stand. In general, Matt has a tendency to be very interactive with the crowd and the closer the fans the better, and this crowd was honed into the songs singing along and eager for him to let go of his stage presence. There’s a casual banter that happens onstage between Berninger and Aaron and Bryce Dessner, the fore mentioned are usually a little more serious on whatever the three are chatting about and Matt chimes in with a subtle comic relief to the story. In this case it was over -odd time signatures (lead into Ada..it’s in nine discussion.) and how the new record has no odd time signatures...Matt chimes in..“I can only count 1-2-3-4” it’s pretty awe-inspiring as an artist to see how well connected these guys are both musically and with each other as band mates and from a fan’s standpoint how their chemistry continues to evolve into fresh and still enjoyable music.
There comes a point in the night at a National show when Matt can no longer stay harnessed to the mic stand and his Frankenstein-esque stage persona takes over and all bets are off at no telling where he roams for the remainder of the set. I can’t pinpoint exactly when that evening’s lightning did strike but It definitely ramps the crowd’s level another decibel and his monster continues to feed off their energy. The band’s encore included some the fan’s crowd interacting favorites “Mr. November,” where he led in dedicating the song to their friend/crew member, Monaghan. “He’s still with us, but now in a different role” aka..no longer a cord jockey but without him Matt says the experience of this song would had been very different for fans over the years.
Monaghan made his way out embracing Matt and then taking back the cord reigns for the night. He then guided Matt as he proceeded to make his way through the auditorium crossing along the row of my seat (Y, to give some context of the distance) before navigating down back towards the stage. If you’re imagining it now the crowd was loudly beyond themselves while yelling along with the chorus at the top of their lungs. The evening closed out with a stripped down acoustic version of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” rousing the crowd to sing along and triumphantly ending both the evening as well as I’d say their four night tour opening stay in Chicago! If they’re headed your way...it’s definitely a circus worth seeing.
Once Upon a Poolside
Tropic Morning News
This Isn’t Helping
Sea of Love
I Should Live in Salt
I Need My Girl
All the Wine
Grease in Your Hair
Your Mind is not your Friend
Send For Me
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks +
+ stripped down