Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The National @ The Vic

Riding the fine line between calm and chaos...

The lights go down. A silver, shimmering backdrop quietly descends behind the neatly arranged instruments and one by one, the National slowly take the stage. Of course it's not quiet. The sold-out Vic is wild with anticipation, and when the guitars sing out the intro to Boxer's "Brainy," there is a hush. Barely-too-tall Matt Berninger staggers up to the barely-too-short mic stand, lurches over, holds himself up and hums out "I've been dragging around from the end of your coat for two weeks," his deep and breathy baritone straining to fill the theater.

The entire set took on a cool, calculated feeling, where one could argue that the band was teetering on the brink of boredom just as Berninger teetered back and forth around the stage, presumably affected by the copious amounts of wine presented to him pre-show. Luckily their setlist prevented this by mixing in the sleepy ballads ("Ada," "About Today") with the rockers ("Mistaken for Strangers," "Abel") and when need be, as in "Baby, We'll Be Fine"'s cathartic and apologetic outro, Berninger stepped out of his comfort zone behind the monitors and walked along the edge of the stage close to the adoring showgoers.

The two sets of brothers and Berninger are a quiet, reserved bunch, barely making eye contact with each other, swapping instruments wordlessly, and occasionally casting evil glances. In fact, a few people in my party commented, "They don't seem to like each other very much, do they?" I would assume it's the same in any family situation: equal layers of love and disdain. It would have been completely transfixing if not for the addition of multi-instrumentalist Padma Newsome, who took every opportunity to literally walk front and center and push Berninger out of the spotlight for his blazing violin solos. Given the dynamic of the permanent members, it seemed like an unwelcome intrusion at times. When seated far back behind the keys, as for the crowd pleasing "Fake Empire," everything seemed right and the National owned the night.

Opener St. Vincent came out and sang backups for the encore of "Green Gloves," and for the set closer, "Mr. November," Berninger literally stepped way out of the comfort zone and into the first rows of the crowd, proving that a calm and calculated family affair can still be reckless and fun, provided the wine is provided. - B. Nanna

Photo by Craig Shimala