Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The National | High Noon Saloon | June 9th

After reading that I had missed my chance to see The National in NYC last week, TK, False 45th's Senior Midwest Correspondent, sent over this review of The National's show in Madison, WI.

Photo courtesy of rob_thomas.


After seeing flight delays nix Flatlander's review of The National in NYC, I thought I'd give him a hand and pinch hit.

Madison's a super cool town but its music scene can be lacking at times, forcing me to travel to Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis or behind to catch the bands I want to see. Every now and then, Madtown gets it right and the stars properly align.

It can be sometimes rare for an act to play Madison while the buzz is building. With the newly-released Boxer getting rave reviews and five sold out NYC dates in tow, to catch The National at a venue like High Noon for $13 appeared to be a steal.

I wasn't too familiar with The National when I caught them at last year's Pitchfork Festival. After hearing the band getting constantly lauded by trusted music sources like Brian, I decided this opportunity couldn't be passed up.

In a perfect world, Madison would get more acts to my liking and even better, they'd get them to play a great, small venue like High Noon, which sold out. It's rectangular and long, front to back, with a balcony in the rear and if they extended the balcony along the sides of the room, it'd have an even better First Avenue vibe with better capacity and viewpoints.

At 6-6, I really don't struggle with viewpoints and as usual, there was ample room stage right six feet from the stage. The band sounded great from the start and it took me a while to figure out what lead singer Matt Berninger's deal is.

Berninger, more often than not, acts like he's singing a lullaby to a kid and doesn't want to wake the others nearby. If you prefer that your lead singers annunciate and get bombastic, Berninger will get on your nerves.

The National's last two albums, Alligator and Boxer, delightfully grow on you the more you listen to them but Berninger seems to be taking that approach to a new level. It's like he's trying to lull you to a certain comfort level before the band sneaks up on you.

It took me a while to realize he's a rare team player that doesn't need to dominate every song with his voice. For The National, it's all about the mesh with the other musicians, so it made the band's crescendos and the times he upped the vocals resonate even more.

Personally, I wish there were more of those moments on Boxer like there are on Alligator. Lit Up might be my favorite song of theirs and it was a highlight live, just as Berninger being drowned out as the audience shouted the chorus of Mr. November was the show's most riveting moment.

It was well worth the cost to see the band flush out the songs live. The guitar work was surprising and the driving beats kept the show humming along as they created a sound billed as 'atmospheric' (for one, I'd be intrigued to hear what a claustrophobic band sounds like).

The only complaint was having to stand behind the one overcaffeinated shit-for-brains that insisted on clapping loudly during the quiet intervals. Even his girlfriend telling him to S.T.F.U. and Berninger verbally bitch-slapping him a couple of times didn't get the hint across. I suppose if you're wired on Jagr bombs or whatever else, you may not be cognizant you're the only idiot clapping when the rest of the fans are quietly listening to the show. If I wasn't older or didn't have the experience of dealing with jackasses like this repeatedly during the few years I worked concert security as a part-time gig, I would have been really tempted to clock him.

Opening Acts
While I'm venting about ignorant fans, is it possible for people to shut up at a concert? I mean seriously, do these people gab away at movies too? I pay a ticket to hear the freaking band and when you get an opening band that doesn't suck like Shapes And Sizes, it's embarrassing when they attempt quiet interludes and are drowned out by everyone in the joint being a chatty Kathy. Go outside and gab, or shut up and listen. At times, Shapes got weird for weird's sake but for the most part, they were pleasing to listen to. The first band up, Talkdemonic, forced me to use a sentence I never really figured I'd write in my life: That band with just the chick on the violin and the dude on drums really rocked.

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