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all photos: Dakota Fine
all words: Andy Hess

Programming note: I’m going to start including setlists in my reviews for at least the headliners.

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The National @ DAR Constitution Hall
Runaway, Mistaken For Strangers, Anyone’s Ghost, Bloodbuzz, OH, Secret Meeting, Slow Show, Squalor Victoria, Afraid of Everyone, Little Faith, All The Wine, Available, Conversation 16, Apartment Story, The Geese of Beverly Road, Abel, Daughters of the Soho Riots, England, Fake Empire // Karen, Lemonworld, Mr. November, Terrible Love, About Today

It’s the little things that make The National special.

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Sure, Matt Berninger scaling the balcony of DAR Constitution Hall during the always triumphant “Mr. November” was something to see, but I found myself more awestruck by the details. The fan fare at the end of “Fake Empire”, the nearly unrecognizable re-working of “Apartment Story” and the joyous explosion at the end of “About Today” — a song that is normally anything but — made me take notice.

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The National used to be just another quintet from Brooklyn. Now they are one of, if not the biggest, names in indie rock. The band had played at DAR before — opening for the Arcade Fire — but “this time sucks less,” quipped guitarist Aaron Dessner between songs. In 2007, they played to a half empty room and in three short years later they sold out the building. Having been relegated to seeing this band at festival appearances for the past couple of years, it was nice to see them play in a proper venue — even if it holds 3,700 people.

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Armed with an extensive back catalog, The National’s setlist reads like a greatest hits record. Older songs like “Available” and “All The Wine” are still great. The new material sounds even better. “Bloodbuzz, OH” has a palpable tension before its roaring, cathartic release in the climax. “England” is a gorgeous slow burner. The paranoia in “Afraid of Everyone” is overwhelming. “Conversation 16” is downright creepy.

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In the New York Times profile of the band the feature focused on the band’s give and take with each other during the recording process of High Violet. It was even more apparent in the live show: brothers Bryce and Aaron trade melody as drummer Bryan Devendorf dances around the drum kit effortlessly while Berninger is on the verge of losing it as the music keeps him slightly restrained.

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Despite the variables that play into running sound at a cavernous venue like Constitution Hall, the sound engineers worked the boards perfectly giving nuance to the highly orchestrated numbers. During the show a few people pleaded for the band to go back to a smaller space like the 9:30 Club. Unfortunately, I don’t think those people are going to get their wish.

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The Antlers were made for that room. In fact, I don’t think I would have enjoyed their show as much as I did they weren’t playing a seated venue. So, like the rest of the people in the venue, I sat and took in the waves of noise coming from the stage.

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Hospice is an emotionally draining listen. It’s a record that longs for deep, introspective listens. The songs from the same band who made that record were almost unrecognizable, but the emotional response was the same.

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For a three-piece band Antlers make a lot of noise. Peter Silberman’s captivating vocals really came alive during their performance and drummer Michael Lerner added an emotional heft with his perfectly placed fills.

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Normally a shimmery, guitar driven song, “Two” has been transformed into a languid piano ballad before opening up to something bigger. “Bear”, a jaunty pop number, comes off more like a drone that builds and builds before erupting. “Kettering” is a sweeping number that moves from a slow synth build to something almost violent once the drums tower over the rest of the song during the coda. I look forward to the next time the group is in town, but it’s going to be hard to beat this performance if not just for the sheer force of nature that came out of the speakers.

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