Have you ever found yourself in a room full of people having a great time, and being utterly unable to comprehend why they seem to be enjoying themselves so much? That was me at The Anthem last night for The National‘s performance.
The evening started off on a weird note, when Berninger asked to restart the first song before eventually scrapping it because he couldn’t find the downbeat. That set the tone for proceedings, although you wouldn’t know it by the energy and rabid enthusiasm of the sold-out crowd of middle-aged bros in khakis.
I recognize that The National is one of those Very Important Bands that I’m supposed to like as an older millennial man with a beard: Matt Berninger’s voice is objectively envy-inducing, and Bryce and Aaron Dessner are both incredible guitarists who can extract amazing texture and sound out of their instruments. The Devendorf brothers hold down the rhythm section, providing some airtight grooves and dynamic changes while still allowing for negative space and reflection. Furthermore, the band has put out a couple of records I listen to a fair amount (Trouble Will Find Me, High Violet) and this year’s Sleep Well Beast was enjoyable enough, if not particularly memorable. I get all of that. But I still left last night’s show early, having lost interest in the proceedings somewhere around the twenty minute mark and doing my best to ride out the rest of the evening before eventually giving up. For all the high production values and allegedly improved stage energy, the truth is all of the songs sort of melted into one another for me, the band struck me as incredibly aloof and detached, and the crowd full of white dudes (probably) named Kyle was incredibly off-putting.
From everything I’ve read, the members of this band seem self-deprecating, socially conscious – they do a ton of work in support of great causes including Planned Parenthood – and genuinely nice. They know their path to rock stardom was unconventional and a lot longer than for their peers, and they have a sense of humor about it. There’s a great passage in Lizzy Goodman’s recent book Meet Me In The Bathroom where Berninger jokes about how they’re so uncool and old that New Balance sneakers are their footwear of choice. A lot of people love this band, including friends whose opinions about music I really value and respect. But I thought they fell totally flat last night. For those of you reading – what am I missing? Please enlighten me in the comments.