Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The National with Yeasayer at Central Park – 8/04/08

Thanks to a friend’s scheduling conflict I found myself at Central Park’s SummerStage last night to see the National and Yeasayer. (Plants and Animals opened, but I as good as missed them, unfortunately.)

Yeasayer is one of the bands that’s been getting hyped a lot over the past year. I’ve avoided most of that buzz, not having thought much of the few songs I’d heard. Their set last night proved once again that having no expectations often leads to more enjoyable experiences.

Performing live, they reminded me somewhat of an early-‘80s, Lindsay Buckingham-fronted Fleetwood Mac. I half hoped Yeasayer would launch into “Tusk” (a feat I once saw Papas Fritas pull off in a tiny Seattle club, much to my amazement).

When Yeasayer crosses into the world music realms of Rhythm of the Saints or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, I’m out. Thankfully they tend to maintain a handle most of the time, delivering an infectious blend of jungle funk indie rock. Here’s “Sunrise”:

Headliner the National has turned into one of America’s most compelling and purely solid live acts. The band took the stage in front of a giant eight-panel art installation featuring iconography from playing cards, U.S. currency (including the text “for all debts, public and private”), a whisky bottle label and a cheerleader, among other things. A fitting backdrop.

The Central Park crowd gave them a warm welcome as they opened with Boxer’s “Brainy.” Matt Berninger parsed out his booze- and despair-soaked lyrics in his edgy baritone while hanging onto the mic stand like a damp shirt out to dry. His jangly affectations—slapping his hip in a low grade fit, crossing his left arm under his right as if propping it up—reinforced the tense but tenuous nature of the songs.

The National treated us to the best of their beautiful, slurry songs including “Green Gloves, “Slow Show,” “All The Wine” and “Mistaken For Strangers,” as well as a reworking of “Apartment Story.” A special bonus for this show was the inclusion of a bassoonist, a trombonist and a trumpeter. These songs sound so great with these parts reproduced live.

For me, the only downside to the evening—a beautiful, warm night with distant airplane lights streaking through thin clouds—was the location.

(By which I do not necessarily mean Central Park, nor am I referencing the sub-par sound that often comes from playing outdoors. The National’s soundman did a good job, though Bryan Devendorf’s drums, which drive songs like “Squalor Victoria” and “Abel,” failed to pack the punch one expected.)

No, the simple fact is that the National is a band that belongs in a dark nightclub. It feels wrong to drink beer out of a plastic cup and watch the sunset while Berninger asks his lover if she can carry his drink so he can tie his tie. The National’s music produces images of evening attire, tumblers of ice and whisky, stressful nights lying awake in bed, relationship troubles and glass ashtrays.

This is not beers-in-the-park music. Though nearly every song on Boxer makes reference to drinking, it’s never in a longnecks-and-pool-halls, Hold Steady kind of way. This is music to which you rock out with your cocktail out.

But this is a small complaint that’s not related to the performance, and I’m making too much of it. The National know what we want and they deliver. Berninger gets downright spastic during “Mr. November,” causing the stagehand to sprint across the stage to reconnect his microphone cable before the second verse.

They close with “About Today,” a quiet but emotionally brutal number that holds the audience entranced until the last chord.

Here’s “All The Wine”:


Anonymous said...

excellent national review!

every word.

his voice reminds me of lou reed.

Morrissey said...

nice review---- i posted a few pics on my site. it was my 8th show--- it was superb! enjoy!

nyctaper said...

There's a complete audio recording of this concert on my site:
National at Central Park Audio