BY MERRICK MARQUIE AND RYAN MORRIS
The National played recently at the Fillmore in Charlotte, NC, as part of their Trouble Will Find Me tour. Opening for them was the Scottish folk band Frightened Rabbit.
During the nearly two-and-a-half hour long set, lead singer Matt Berninger barely looked at the audience, but still, he had the most profound connection with them. After every song, he would turn around and face the back of the stage, half-stumbling and often taking sips from various solo cups, but he always seemed to get back to the microphone at exactly the perfect time.
He played to a sold out audience of approx. 2,000, but in spite of this, his tone was extraordinarily intimate. The songs carried an effortless, conversational quality to them, as if Berninger wasn’t even trying; he was just saying what came to mind. And if what came to mind just so happened to be beautiful, so be it.
Throughout the set, Berninger was always in control, a feat that was all the more impressive given how much wine he was seen to drink. He stumbled on occasion, handed a bottle of red wine to an audience member, and generally just caused antics on stage. It’s little wonder that a picture was later posted to the band’s Facebook page showing a tally of how many microphones and stands Berninger had broken over the course of the tour.
At one point during ‘Squalor Victoria,’ Berninger just knocked the stand completely to the ground, looking like he intended to walk out right then and there, before stooping to pick up the microphone and immediately begin screaming the refrain in what was a dramatic and powerful shift in tone.
Thanks to Berninger’s persona, though, these acts never seemed sad or malicious; instead, it merely added to the band’s on-stage presence and aura of mystique.
Berninger’s voice was nearly drowned out by the crowd during the song ‘Fake Empire,’ a classic from their album Boxer which was requested by the audience throughout their night. Its inclusion seemed almost a relief to the crowd as they screamed along “..staying out, super late, tonight!” The intensely personal and often self-deprecating songs were shared with thousands of people as if they were each individually the only person in the room.
The band played four songs for the encore, beginning with ‘Sorrow,’ one of the more popular songs from the band’s previous album High Violet. “You have no idea how hard it is for us to play this song,” said Matt Berninger in reference to ‘Sorrow’ which the band famously played 105 times in a row this past summer during a special six-hour set. The song seemed to have taken on a deeply sad meditation for the band as they dabbled in the dark emotions of the piece.
The encore balanced excitement with raw emotional connection: People wanted to rock out with the band to ‘Mr. November,’ and then turn around to chant along in a drunken somnolence to ‘Terrible Love.’ The connection became physical as well as emotional during the latter when Berninger jumped into the crowd with his microphone in tow, continuing to sing even as fans reached out to touch him and pat him on the back.
The band ended the night with a stripped down version of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,’ — it brought the set to a relatively quiet conclusion, but still seemed like a perfect fit. Instead of ending the show with a whimper, the song swelled as more and more of the audience joined in, until the roar of the final chorus felt like the loudest part of the night.
The National are emotional, intense, and all in all an incredible show to behold. As they creep into the Top 50 bands in total tour gross, you should catch them on this tour before they continue to grow.
Photos: Merrick Marquie (Permission Courtesy of The National and Grand Stand)