Since the release of Trouble Will Find Me, The National have been road warriors playing every major summer festival and city in between. Now that festival season is over, they’re fitting in a full tour that will have them on the road until the end of November. Their live show is not an easy-going affair, with lead singer, Matt Berninger, throwing himself around the stage and crowd. It’s a wonder that by the time the band rolled into Madison’s Orpheum Theater Sunday night that he had any gas left in the tank. But two hours later, as the lights came up, Berninger and his bandmates were soaked in sweat and wine after an energetic show, leaving no doubt of their dedication.
Partnering with the fantastic Scottish band, Frightened Rabbit, on paper, makes for a dour evening. However, Frightened Rabbit turned in an equally energetic and powerful set to begin the night, and set the proper mood. The sold out crowd was eager and fired up by the time The National strolled on to the old Orpheum stage. The band quietly took their places and settled into Trouble opener, “I Should Live in Salt”. Berninger didn’t appear comfortable at the start of the set, sneaking quiet drinks from his glass of wine as he paced around the stage during instrumental breaks and gave a few thank yous here and there.
Then “Sea of Love” came around. Whether it was aided by wine, or just tapping into his comfort zone, Berninger became a new man. By the end of High Violet‘s “Conversation 16”, Berninger let out a yelp before throwing his mic and mic stand forward to the stage as he walked offstage to the wings. It lit a fire both in the band and the crowd. He started joking about how “punk” the band is, and how they’re no longer allowed to bring machetes on stage. He added: “Only a few people got hurt. I mailed back all their pieces!” He and the Dessner brothers joked and laughed, and at one point he yelled at them, “What the fuck was that?!” when they spontaneously played an instrumental interlude before Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers standout, “Lucky You”.
A few mic stand tosses, and a full bottle of white wine (“They call this a Cincinnati Spritzer. We’re so fucking punk rock!”) later, and both the crowd and band were whipped into a frenzy. They even tossed in a cover of Perfume Genius’ “Learning,”–which Aaron Dessner said, “compared to them, we’re a fucking comedy band.” Somewhere in there, Berninger completed a full lap around the crowd, stopping to get a PBR tallboy at the bar of course. By the end of the set, the band appeared exhausted and drunk, and they finished it all off with a full acoustic sing-along to “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”.
It was a perfect end to long, fun, jam-packed set. If the band has this kind of energy each night, which I’m positive they do, it’s not only an incredible feat, but reason one why you must make it to a show along the way. A show with The National is a chance to see a band hitting the top of their game right as they’re finally getting the full appreciation they deserve. It’s important.
I Should Live in Salt
Don’t Swallow the Cap
Sea of Love
Afraid of Everyone
I Need My Girl
This Is the Last Time
Learning (Perfume Genius cover)
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks