Monday, August 9, 2010

I was Carried to Royal Oak in a Swarm of Bees

The National concert review

Royal Oak Music Theater

Tuesday August 3, 2010

Casual diners surely noticed something unusual happening last night in downtown Royal Oak. Parking decks were full, cued cars sat waiting for elusive metered spots to open and swarms of excited people crowded street corners and spilled out of restaurants on Main Street.

Those in the know were attending The National’s sold-out show at Royal Oak Music Theater. The National, of Midwestern origins set this silver city afire. The band which has slowly but steadily ascended at the same time the record industry has imploded are on the verge of super-stardom. Last night’s show was proof that there will be no resistance.

Half of the set was smartly composed of infectious gems from High Violet - released in May. It is arguably the best record of 2010. The other half of the show was sprinkled with cult classics from Boxer (2007) and Alligator (2005) with two songs melded together from their sophomore effort, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers (2003.)

Set List
1. Runaway
2. Anyone's Ghost
3. Bloodbuzz Ohio
4. Secret Meeting
5. Slow Show
6. Squalor Victoria
7. Afraid Of Everyone
8. All The Wine
9. Available/Cardinal Song
10. Racing Like A Pro
11. Conversation 16
12. Apartment Story
13. Ada
14. Abel
15. England
16. Fake Empire
17. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
18. Lemonworld
19. Mr. November
20. Terrible Love

Their music is an amalgamation of styles. At once mesmerizing and epic, it envelops the great guitar rock of Shoegaze (Ride) and recent Post-Punk Revival (Arcade Fire and The Killers.)

Singer Matt Berninger’s distinctive baritone vocal has been compared to Ian Curtis of Joy Division. I also hear Guy Chadwick of The House Of Love. His lyrics are his greatest gift and his delivery so believable the listener cannot help feeling empathetic. With lines like “I still owe money, to the money, to the money I owe” from Bloodbuzz Ohio and repeating couplets like “Didn’t want to be your ghost“ followed by the telling “But I don’t want anybody else” from Anyone’s Ghost the listener feels the ache that the singer surely intends. Matt flaps around stage elbows pinned to his sides in fits as if the emotions of the words that he’s singing are too difficult to physically contain. Interestingly, the band known to agonize over their recording sessions becomes something altogether different on stage. Confident, accomplished, even livelier. Bryan Devendorf, a John Lennon look-a-like, drives the songs with his creative drumming styles while the Dessner twins preternaturally play off each other’s complex and richly-laid guitar parts like the symbiotic coupling of Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper of The Church. This wall of sound is augmented by a delicate, somber horn section and violin. As if that isn’t enough the group knowingly uses the entire band to harmonize throughout their songs adding sweeping vistas to their sonic coup de grĂ¢ce.

The packed house was well-versed and responded enthusiastically to new and old favorites. The set ending Fake Empire had the diverse crowd of 20-40 somethings cheering for more.

The apex of the show happened during the encore with Mr. November when Matt spontaneously ran up the side aisle to a mid way point, stood on top of the railing and egged the crowd on with the infectious chorus. He then jumped in and waded through his adoring fans never missing a word as he made his way back to the stage.

The near-hysterical audience was brought to their senses with the throbbing closer, Terrible Love. The band took their final bow and soon after the lights and house music came on signaling the end. Patrons left the building with contented smiles and buzzing about having witnessed something truly special.

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