Crystal chandeliers glow coldly in the dark Fillmore Auditorium. On stage, Matt Berninger stands tall in a black suit, carefully caressing his glass of Bacardi. His band swarms around him in a cacophonous wave of composition.
It’s amazing how well The National’s songs translate on stage. Berninger’s baritone anguish and the band’s melancholy outlook somehow manage to attract an energetic audience with plenty of good humor. In addition, the mope rockers have great banter. Their topics in between songs ranged from the misunderstood Denver Cannibal society to Red Rocks and how it can go fuck itself.
Of course, the songs themselves are powerhouses. Bryce Dessner’s incredible skills with distortion worked miracles when coupled with drummer Bryan Devendorf’s percussion prowess. Solid bass and back up guitar by Scott Devendorf and Aaron Dressner built the band’s sound to the point where it filled every corner of the Fillmore. On songs like “Brainy” and “Abel” the band was studio quality.
But it’s the man with the glass of Bacardi in his hand that gives the band its true presence. With Berninger on stage, every song is a slow and beautiful panic attack. His body buckles and shivers under the sheer weight of his voice. His arms slap back and forth on his thighs anxiously. On instrumentals he paces back and forth, eyeing each member of the band as if they were evidence on a crime scene. As he mutters “Soul soul soul soul” on “Afraid of Everyone”, he collapses in exhaustion over and over. As he screams the chorus to “Mr. November”, he practically boxes the mic stand.
The best thing about The National is that it never loses its meaning. No matter what venue they play or what album you listen to, their songs carry a heavy burden of introspection, regret, and sadness. Even amidst a crowd of thousands cheering, Berninger looks lost in thought. When he gets down off the stage and joins the crowd for “Terrible Love,” he meanders off to the back of the theater, almost as if he were going to get a drink at the bar.
On the last song the band turns off all their instruments. A few hecklers scream, but the band asks for quiet. Silence descends on the crowd as the first few chords of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” strum out. In an instant, everyone is singing. Every voice can be heard, and every string sounds clear. It’s beautiful. It’s captivating. And it’s why this band is as great as it is.