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Thursday, June 07, 2007 

Hey love, we'll get away with it

at the Opera House, Toronto
Tuesday June 5th 2007

There is actually, and I don't say this lightly, a phrase in the press release for Boxer that does a decent job of summing up what the National sound like: "a meditative rumble that starts in the heart, gets caught in the brain, and resonates outward." Still, J. Edward Keyes continues to put it best, and while I was worried his post about the National's NYC shows would mean that their Toronto show would be a bit of a let down (high expectations, TO not being their home base, etc), I shouldn't have.

This was seriously one of the best shows I've seen in a while, if we're specifying rock shows (as opposed to, say, Hot Chip) I'd say in years (when did I last see the Wrens again?). The only part that was even a bit of a let down was the encore. I love "Green Gloves" but it was a bit low key, "Abel" is not one of the tracks from Alligator I was familiar with, and "About Time," while awesome, was both new to me and not "Lit Up" (which, along with "Brainy," marks the only song(s) I was hoping for that didn't get played). If I'd known it was on the Cherry Tree EP they were selling, I would have picked up a copy; as it is, I grabbed the pretty cool limited edition tour print instead (now I just need to get it framed).

One thing that J's post that definitely held up was the crowd singing. Not for all the songs, and not as loud as I imagine it'd be in NYC, but "The Geese of Beverly Road," "Daughters of the SoHo Riots" and most of the other tracks had at least a good fourth of the audience (it sounded like, from the front) singing along. Even the fucking perfect "Mr. November" that closed out the main set had plenty of accompaniment, although it was kind of hard to make out for part of the song.

It's pretty much a truism to say that a band is louder and more aggressive live, and it'd be doing the National a disservice to not mention that the National were capable of massive and affecting restraint during the show (with the possible exception of the awesomely into it Matt Berninger, who I could swear almost fell into us while perched at the end of the stage during the more intense bits of some songs), but even a quiet tune like "Start a War" (beautiful choice of opener) managed to build up some real heat on the extended ending; often they would play what was effectively a more red blooded version of the album track and then after it was 'over' just continue on to new heights. Padma Newsome was there with a violin and some electronics, and they managed to replicate many of the album effects, but without horns and more strings the songs were definitely different; in fact, it was a perfect balance between the twin evils of slavish devotion to the recorded version and going totally off the rails. "Fake Empire" in particular took on a wholly new cast, one that was incredibly impressive.

Also, as is already pretty evident on record Bryan Devendorf is one hell of a drummer. He sets his kit up pretty carefully, of course, but the amount he can add to a song is just ridiculous. The whole band was extremely tight and clearly at the height of their powers. The guy I was talking to before the show told me that each of the National's albums have been better than the last (I've never heard the first two); I believe him, but I almost can't bring myself to hope the same is true for Boxer's eventual successor. The album already feels pretty monumental - how can they top it? They've got at least two albums worth of songs that seem to speak personally to a crowd the size of the packed Opera House in a way that I've never really seen a band manage before - or, to quote Keyes, "Berninger is a master lyricist, able to write lyrics that everybody gets but nobody quite understands." What makes the National so great, though, on record but even more so live, is that they more than match Berninger in terms of musical effectiveness and impact. Usually bands either nail the lyrics/content or music/form; the National are one of the lucky few to excel at both, and at their strange intersection as well. Very few things could prevent me from seeing them next time they come to town.

Set List:
Start a War
Secret Meeting
Slow Show
Baby, We'll Be Fine
Apartment Story
The Geese of Beverly Road
Racing Like a Pro
Squalor Victoria
Murder Me Rachael
All the Wine
Guest Room
Daughters of the SoHo Riots
Mistaken For Strangers
Fake Empire
Mr. November

Green Gloves
About Today

[Cross-posted at the Funky Funky 7]

Still not heard The National, but a friend was raving about Alligator a couple of years back. One for the list...

Didn't I send you Boxer? Seriously, this is good stuff.

I'm both glad and super jealous that the show was that good/amazing.

Next time, next time.

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Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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