The National | 03.24.06

Singer Matt Berninger seemed to summon all possible energy in screaming out the refrain of “My mind’s not right!” afterwards looking as if he was ready to cry or pass out.

 

Not many rock bands open a concert with a poetry reading. Such was the way, however, that the National’s set began at the Double Door. While I can hear your collective eyes rolling, the poem somehow seemed oddly appropriate, given the band’s Beat-like lyrics and its penchant for almost moody rock music. The poem, read by a local Chicago poet, was a harbinger that this concert would be a bit different than most. It did not, however, give an idea of just how excellent the National’s set would be.

After the poem, the band launched into an up-tempo take on “Secret Meeting”—the first track off their latest album, Alligator—showing a surprising amount of energy given the almost morose feeling of that song’s recorded version. Perhaps “surprising” isn’t the right word; even though the band has a slightly melancholy sound, they are certainly capable of playing high-energy tracks with aplomb. One need only look at their positively explosive rendition of “Abel” for proof. Singer Matt Berninger seemed to summon all possible energy in screaming out the refrain of “My mind’s not right!” afterwards looking as if he was ready to cry or pass out.

That refrain seemed to sum up Berninger quite well. It’s simply not possible to take your eyes off him while he’s on stage. While he spent a good deal of the show with his back to the audience, cigarette perched between his lips (say what you will about the negative health effects, but cigarette smoke under stage lights just looks fucking cool), when singing he bounds about the stage, completely engrossed in the music and seeming to not have any idea where he is or what is around him. If you happen to be in the front row at one of their shows, be forewarned—during this set he knocked two mic stands into the crowd, almost giving two poor girls concussions. Good music comes with a price.

With solid opening sets from Talkdemonic and the Cloud Room, this was a riveting show all around. During the set, the band mentioned that they had played Chicago just a few months earlier, with not nearly the turnout of this sell-out crowd. With sets like this—and the attending buzz they create—it’s not hard to imagine why.

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