The National have always been a hard band to describe to people. They do not sound like the typical indie rock band. Somehow they maintain a tone of elegance, and a real tactfulness for their craft of songwriting. Gracing between complicated drums and gliding pianos, excited guitar and jumpy violins, they are a very distinct band. Lead singer, Matt Berninger, sings with a very deep baritone voice, and his lyrics are often alienating but brilliant.
Whenever listening to a National album, one feels a surging pulse beneath the more obvious musical tones, a strange energy that pushes what seems like should be slow, ballad numbers. This push/pull between songs creates an addicting giddiness, but live, the giddiness is overwhelming, with the underlying energy in each song being brought directly to the surface, and creating a seething angst that is impossible to stand still to.
Stand-outs of the set included Fake Empire (from Boxer), Abel (from Alligator), and Squalor Victoria (once again from Boxer). Berninger puts such emotion into his live performances that he ended up crying after more than one song. Switching between the microphone and a bottle of wine and a bottle of scotch, he became increasingly deeper and deeper enamored with each song.
Opening for The National was St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, who was also wonderful. For each song she played, she would start out by playing a beat on an electronic pad, which included samples of her own voice and then record it live and loop it back. Building upon each loop she recorded, she would construct an entire pop symphony by herself. The entire show was incredibly satisfying and energetic.