“We’re going to play a couple of new songs… flawlessly,” joked Matt Berninger shortly after his band concluded its second song. Packed to the brim, The National took to Brooklyn’s Bell House Thursday night for the first of two “secret” and sold-out “warm-up shows” ahead of the May 11th release of the band’s latest album, High Violet.
Ironically enough, however, by evening’s end, the only obvious error, at least to an average person’s ear, was The National frontman’s short-term memory lapse at “Start A War”. “These are old songs,” he embarrassingly declared after forgetting the initial lyrics.
In reality, The National’s 18-song, 90-minute performance was nothing short of extraordinary. Rather than a warm-up, the band delivered a showcase, exemplifying all the reasons why, as one audience member put it, they’re one of the best live bands around: Berninger’s rough, baritone vocals and supreme, stage light-holding, run-through-the-audience-like-a-mad-man enthusiasm, the exquisite musicianship of the Dessner and Devendorf brothers and the newly recruited horn section, and the reality that even after an extended break, these musicians, this band can still sound as musically tight, technically sound, and utterly captivating as they do upon finishing a six-month tour. Impressive would be an understatement.
The concert was also a showcase of what’s to come, as the band performed a bounty of new selections from the forthcoming LP. And if one were to take much stock in Thursday’s performance, then two things can be concluded: the album will hear The National at its darkest and most ferocious nature to date and it will easily top all the year-end lists. Musically, the sound is as full and vibrant as ever, with greater emphasis placed on guitar and horns. Lyrically, Berninger often makes his way into themes of death, plight, and loneliness, a mindless journey, so to speak, which works brilliantly with the musical chaos accompanying him.
The high point came at the show’s conclusion, when The National chose to segue longtime set closer “Mr. November” into the album’s recently debuted first single, “Terrible Love”. Albeit a surprising move, it was easy to see why the band chose to close with this still foreign track — because, at least live, it’s as good if not better than “Mr. November”.
As The National stepped off the stage shortly before midnight, the mood was one of celebration: as exemplified by the popping of champagne, the band was excited to have made it through this warm up show seemingly problem free. The audience, on other hand, had already begun reminiscing where the performance ranked all-time.