review by Noah Sanders
On a recent road trip to southern Oregon, I introduced The National‘s Boxer to my sadly unexposed older brother. I’d enjoyed the album in the past, even going far enough to deem it one of my top albums of 2007, but something about the closed space of the car, Matt Berniger’s oft-times indistinguishable baritone, and the need to decipher their cryptic lyrics endeared the album to me even more. When the opportunity arose to cover the the Co-ops Rock! benefit concert featuring Menomena and The National, I couldn’t break my previously held, three month-old plans quick enough.
It wasn’t without worry that I approached this concert. I’d seen Menomena a few times in the past and they’d both wowed and disappointed, and after their somewhat lukewarm performance at the Capitol Hill Block Party, I wasn’t terribly excited. The National on the other hand faced not only the monumental task of reaching, and/or exceeding the expectations I’d mentally set for them, but also my worry that their sound, though beautiful, wouldn’t translate to the sit-down environment of The Moore and I’d find myself bored, trapped in a seated position, and surrounded by equally sedate patrons as cell phones flickered in the darkness.
I arrived, stomach fluttering with excitement and nerves and, bluntly put was completely blown away by both acts. This is the way Menomena is meant to be seen, with hours of time to tweak the very delicate balances of their sound, unhampered by the festival settings pressing timetables and the inadequate attention span of Girl Talk-needing hipsters. Within the more elegant setting of The Moore Theatre, and surrounded by an absolutely devoted audience, a completely on-point Menomena spiraled through a large chunk of their most recent album, Friend and Foe, even peppering the set with several tracks I could only imagine were new, untested material. The seamless instrument switching the band is renowned for brought about the highlight of their set: an in-the-round rendition of “Wet and Rusting” that left the audience on their feet, gasping for just enough air to muster a round of near-thunderous applause. And then it was time for The National.
My fear of seated music goers was gone as soon as Matt Berniger and company, stepped on to the stage. The crowd was up, cheering, dancing, moving as soon as the opening guitar picks of “Start A War” seeped through the speakers. Any worries that the band’s sometimes soft sound would lull me in to slumber, also completely unfounded. Backed by a trio of horn-players, the band brought their extremely Boxer and Alligator-heavy set to life, swelling their quieter songs in to almost-epic productions. In a different musical lifetime lead singer Berniger could’ve been a metal frontman. At times, like the absolutely briliant “Secret Meeting” he held the microphone close, hands cupped over his mouth, his deep voice intimate and resonate as it peeled out over the audience. At others, he stalked the stage, pounding the cymbals of the drum-set, barking god-knows-what at the various members of the band, generally taking control of the stage and cheering crowd. And Lord Almighty, does this man know how to holler. Berniger complained of a sore throat, but the genuine crackle of his affected chords only added to the hoarsely screamed chorus of “Squalor Victoria”, my favorite moment of the entire night.
After the show, my brother and I, exhausted yet excited, stood in the lobby, where he declared, “I’m worried for them.” “Why?” I asked. “Because I can’t imagine them doing anything that could top this performance for me,” he said.
I don’t know, but with my expectations so definitely exceeded this time around, The National can count me in, for whatever it is.