The National | 9.30.10

While The National’s albums may be a bit mellow at times, you could clearly hear more of Joy Division’s influence in their music live. The spirit of the songs was more aggressive and the darker, edgier side of the band came out.

The Pageant, St. Louis, Mo.
The National rolled through St. Louis last night in the midst of their 2010 High Violet tour. It’s tough luck for those who missed out, because it was a great night to be at The Pageant. The venue appeared to be at capacity, and the cool fall air was welcoming for the brooding sounds of The National.
The show opened with a set by musician Owen Pallett. With little more than himself, a keyboard and a violin (though a bassist did join him after a few songs), Pallett created a wall of symphonic, looped sound. The first few numbers of his performance were intriguing, largely due to the sheer esoteric novelty of it all. His performance was certainly unique as it featured a collection of synth and keyboard loops that backed his rather traditional, clean vocal approach. The set began to drag a bit as some of the novelty wore off, but perhaps it was just not exactly my type of music. Still, Pallett was a solid performer with an original act that deserves credit.
The lights dimmed and the audience gathered their drinks in anticipation of The National taking the stage. The band came out without much clamor or delay, making a casual entrance. They opened their set with “Runaway”, the low-key, heartfelt ballad from High Violet. The performance was tight, sounding note-for-note very much as it does on the record. It was one of those opening songs that left you thinking: this is going to be a good night.
They followed up with “Anyone’s Ghost” and then “Mistaken for Strangers,” which kicked the tempo up a bit. Sustaining that up-tempo feel, they played their hit single, “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” which the crowd really got into.
The National are a well-rehearsed unit—professional yet elegant in the way that they present their music. It is fun to see a young indie band rocking out, but with this ensemble you also quickly gather the impression that they know what they’re doing and understand how to entertain an audience.
Vocalist Matt Berninger sounded strong in his distinctive laid back, baritone delivery of the chorus, “I’m so sorry for everything”on the song “Baby, We’ll Be Fine.” The tempo slowed as they continued on with “Slow Show,” “Squalor Victoria” and “Afraid of Everyone.”
Tasteful violet lights bathed the audience for much of the show, with a mellow blend of white lights and variations of subtle, colorful hues mixed in. The National presented themselves with maturity and professionalism that only a veteran act can accomplish. Things kicked back up again with “Available/Cardinal Song” from their 2003 release Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers. The band had a good sense of humor, playfully bantering with one another between songs and showing a sense of humility about their work. “Conversation 16” was next up, followed by a great performance of “Apartment Story,” which the audience received with enthusiasm. 
Sorrow found me when I was young/Sorrow waited, sorrow won,”sang Berninger during the opening verse of “Sorrow.” The National have so much atmospheric depth in the arrangements to their songs, much of which was drawn out by the additional members that they brought on tour—a trumpet player, a trombonist and a violin/keyboard player. With the seven of them on stage together, the sound was large and brilliant.
Things got a bit raucous when they kicked into “Abel.” Berringer and his band mates let loose and went a bit nuts during the chorus, repeatedly yelling, “my mind is not right/my mind is not right/my mind is not right.” While The National’s albums may be a bit mellow at times, you could clearly hear more of Joy Division’s influence in their music live. The spirit of the songs was more aggressive and the darker, edgier side of the band came out.
The band continued with the pleasing melodies of “The Geese of Beverly Road,” followed by the haunting intro to “England.” The jangling, ghastly piano led us into “Fake Empire,” the final tune before the encore. If the show had ended there, it would have been an amazing night, but the buzz in the air necessitated some additional songs.
After a brief break filled with unrelenting cheers, the band took the stage once again to begin their encore with the mellow “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.” Things kicked up quite a bit with “Mr. November,” with Berringer leaving the stage to walk amongst the crowd and singing from the wooden ledge surrounding the bar. The show had hit its peak and it was time for the night to end, but not before they performed the show closer, “ Terrible Love.”
The 19-song, roughly 100-minute set felt just right. The National write intricately arranged songs that seem to get better with each release, and their live show was just as impressive. Their performance was visceral yet restrained, leaving you with the impression that they were giving it all they had without sounding forced or overdone. | Christopher Sewell

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