Jan 22, 2008

The National @ City Recital Hall

Dark rooms. Red wine. Broken hearts. Soiled fingers. A Recital Hall? A band. The band. My thoughts. Their words. Hold you by the edges. Blue blazered. Rosy minded fuzz. Coke in my collar. Picking apples. We're the heirs to the glimmering world. A recital hall. Yes, my world glimmered on Monday night. Chiming guitars, shattering drums, soaring violin and a voice. That voice, the voice, inhabiting my space, our space. The National played the first of three nights at the City Recital Hall, as part of the Sydney Festival. I was unsure of this being the right venue, and perhaps it wasn't, more later. But the sounds, oh the sounds, soaring to the impossibly high ceiling, filling this venue with heart and passion till the beige walls bled a different colour.

"Boxer" has thankfully brought The National a bigger audience. Its dark tones and rich melodies have struck a chord with so many people. So it was certainly no disappointment to hear this great band lean heavily on this wonderful album. In fact, "Guest Room" was the only omission and "Start A War" was to become the perfect entree to a night of delicious music. The vigourous drumming of "Mistaken For Strangers" was the second indication that we were in the hands of greatness, before we got our first taste of "Alligator". "Secret Meeting" was languid and ferocious at the same time, something I believe this band is able to do quite effortlessly. Soon I was in Nirvana when "Baby, We'll Be Fine" lingered in the air. That song gave me chills in places where I thought chills could not live. After that the show flowed like no other. "Slow Show" was a glorious moment, "The Geese of Beverly Road" was slow burning heartache and "Abel" was a veritable hurricane, where Matt Berninger screamed the chorus until his innards bled. Naturally "Apartment Story" was another high of the night, whilst "Fake Empire" was a perfect finish as the band employed a small brass section to enormous effect.

If the night was already sitting on a higher plane, then the encore somehow raised the bar. "Gospel" soothed and swayed us, then "Mr November" stormed the barricades. As Matt howled and raged on stage, he then decided to climb down into the audience. Seeking a greater connection he then proceeded to place himself into the third row, which no doubt pleased some lucky fan. As we took a breather, they finally closed with the majestic "About Today" which was extended and twisted into a state of sublime beauty. Just magic. A band in unison and full flight. Bryce Dessner is a superb guitarist, hitting every chord with aplomb, whilst Bryan Devendorf is a drummer of unique skill, subtle and affirmative, he could do no wrong. Violinist Padma Newsome was a whirling dervish on stage, his weeping instrument extending and illuminating many of the songs on the night. Then there is the voice of Matt Berninger, deep and warm, luxurious and strident, it was thrilling to hear it live, those dark and mysterious words warbling through the air to my receptive ears.

Now, the venue. The major plus was that the acoustics were great and the seats very comfortable. Of course many of The National's songs are suited to sitting down. But this is a rock band and sometimes you just need to stand up and jump around. Especially during "Mr November". I was screaming out the lyrics, but I felt too afraid to stand, and no one else did. I think sometimes if you place people in a venue like this and give them comfy seats, they feel almost obliged to sit. It certainly didn't detract from the magic of the night, just gave it a slightly odd feeling. I think the band felt it a little too. Used to playing in pubs or bars, they seemed quite thrilled and excited to be playing in a recital hall. After they embraced the idea, they seemed to play off it. Mentioning how well behaved the audience was, how they never thought "Abel" would be roared out in a recital hall. The talk was generally kept to a minimum, but what was uttered on stage was warm and pithy, small anecdotes to connect to the audience. Which they certainly did. It's just that sometimes you need to get up and shout to the top of your lungs. So next time you tour guys, please give us a different venue. Just for the experience, you know.

Support act was Clogs. They played for close to an hour and were very good. The classical four piece displayed their carefully constructed and arranged pieces with great aplomb. Of course this is Padma Newsome's band and his violin work here was naturally astounding. Bryce Dessner is also a member, with his deft and tender guitar work a definite highlight. Although their work is mostly instrumental, they did break out into song a couple of times. I would kindly suggest though, that whilst Padma is an amazing musician he doesn't hit all the notes that he tries to find.

The venue does not allow photography, but I managed to sneak a few shots towards the end of the show, which I posted at my Flickr.

Set List
Start A War
Mistaken For Strangers
Secret Meeting
Brainy
Baby, We'll Be Fine
Slow Show
Squalor Victoria
The Geese Of Beverly Road
Abel
Racing Like A Pro
Ada
Apartment Story
Green Gloves
Fake Empire

Gospel
Mr November
About Today

6 Comments:

  • At January 22, 2008 , OpenID headsdownthumbsup said...

    Ah nice to see someone got took some shots. I was front row dead centre and at times felt like it was a waste, photography wise especially when Matt was singing right in front of me and then started crawling over my seat and into the guys lap behind me in Mr November. Then I remembered that I really can't take photos.

     
  • At January 22, 2008 , Anonymous connor angel said...

    are you aware that all your reviews start out the exact same way. and i. mean. exactly.

     
  • At January 22, 2008 , Anonymous celerity said...

    Hey, I've been reading your blog for a while and just wanted to say I love the reviews. I'm so looking forwards to seeing the National on Wednesday! And I'm in the third row, so maybe I'll get lucky ;).

     
  • At January 23, 2008 , Blogger Wayne said...

    Connor, if by ALL you mean everyone, then I think you are mistaken. But thanks for reading.

    Celerity, thanks a lot for the nice words. You will absolutely love The National. I am going again too!

     
  • At January 24, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    yeah weren't the National great. They're my number 1 and "about today" my favourite. Feel a tad deflated now though after reading they played it Monday too - having thought that my calling for it was influential. Can't believe you thought Padma didn't hit all the notes - I thought his voice on Wednesday was sublime...

     
  • At January 29, 2008 , Blogger jbjose said...

    Great review; the show was definitely memorable (even in the insane fortnight of music it occurred in).

    I know what you mean about sitting down; I prefer hearing their songs seated but there were definitely people in the back who were compelled to stand up and dance!

     

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