No matter how famous a band gets, their homecoming shows are always special. With The Nationals performance at Barclays Center on Wednesday night, kicking off their first tour dates behind their latest Trouble Will Find Me, no one can say The National didnt make it special for the place where it came into its own: Brooklyn. The band kinda had to. It had been a while.
Wednesday was The Nationals first proper Brooklyn show since touring heavily on High Violet in 2010 through 2011. And how the bands grown: a top-three chart debut for Trouble, a Colbert Report performance, an acclaimed tour documentary, and likely one of the largest headliner crowds the band has drawn to date, filling nearly all of Barclays 19,000 seats.
The venue played a supporting role in the night, with its relatively daunting size for the rising band still-minty-fresh novelty. It was an unusually large, or at least an unusually slick setting for The National, a band that at best reluctantly embraces the kind of grandiose showings of rock n roll showmanship Barclays often showcases. But there were the expectations, all set up on the shiny platter the shape of Barclays itself, as if saying: You wont fuck us over, youre Mr. November!
Turns out The National did alright by the hometown crowd, not without lead singer Matt Berninger telling us how anxious all that adoration made him feel. But thats just schtick. The bands stage patter was, as usual, witty. And there were moments Wednesday night when The Nationals new live show was not just arena-ready but arena-tailored. The bands had a fascinating transformation similar to that of Bright Eyes and fellow New York outfit Interpol. Now, it seems, its The Nationals turn to be arena headliners.
The bands sound on England was large, majestic, and forceful. New Trouble single Sea of Love ripped n roared like a punk-rock stomper. If the band is at all reluctant about its new arena-filling status, they neednt be.
Ill admit we were pretty nervous about this, Berninger said, about the large space the band had just filled with music, near the end of its set, but it was really fun.
The band didnt do it all without a little help: Annie Clark of St. Vincent came along for background vocals on This Is the Last Time; the bands secret weapon and sixth member Thomas Bartlett reprised his one-note falsetto on Sorrow from the High Violet tour; and the bands horn, keyboards, and strings sidemen and women were stellar. But the loudest roles were played by the hometown crowd itself, demanding two encores from the band, singing along the whole time.
The drums to opener “Don’t Swallow the Cap” swirled around frontman Matt Berninger’s slurred enunciation. “Everything I love is on the table, he sang. Everything I love is out to sea.” Its a fairly poignant sentiment for a band playing a milestone hometown show before setting out on what may prove to be the biggest tour of its career yet.
Before I Need My Girl, Berninger said, This [song] has no clever metaphors, this is just about me missing my wife.
And its very sweet but sports arenas like Barclays are also geared toward songs that move your fists. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” inspired a sing-a-long that near matched the bands volume, as did the incredible sing-along to Fake Empire, which ended the bands main set. From its solo intro piano, Berningers stark baritone setting the songs lyrical scene, and the graceful horn outro, it was all chills. All of it, just chills.
Then came the encore where, as it us custom for The National at this point, the frantic Mr. November overcomes them, where Berninger trudges through the general-admission crowd, still without a much-needed cordless mic. He screams, he freaks, he holds his microphone up to fans, and it makes even a large venue feel all the more small and intimate because of it. The second encore of an acoustic Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks shrunk Barclays even more, with Berninger compelling the crowd on the chorus of Vanderlyle, cry baby cry. And that was all it needed.
Mr. November, you did it again.
Photography by Jeremy D. Larson
Don’t Swallow the Cap
Mistaken for Strangers
Sea of Love
Afraid of Everyone
I Need My Girl
This is the Last Time (w/ St. Vincent)
I Should Live In Salt
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks