Tag Archives: the National


Courtney Barnett and San Fermin Are a Winning Combination

October 21st, 2014

Courtney Barnett/San Fermin – Union Transfer – October 20, 2014


The rarely mentioned truth about live music is that it is, in essence, an exercise in predictability. From night to night, bands play the same songs with minor variations. The attitude of the crowds may influence things, but when a group plays their songs, they are working from a script, a set list of material, which, hopefully, they know well. Within that paradigm, where is the band’s enjoyment? What does the audience come to see and hear? How is live music a unique experience?

Listening to Courtney Barnett, you get the sense that whatever navel-gazing, highbrow thinking is imposed on her music, she will shrug it off and keep playing. As the lyric to her runaway radio hit, “Avant Gardender,” goes, “It’s a Monday/ It’s so mundane.” Mundane for her, maybe, but for the audience that came to see Barnett with coheadliner San Fermin last night at Union Transfer, the performance was extraordinary, necessarily so. It’s self-evident that everyone would feel something different, from the older couple sitting at the circular table wedged between the bar and a support beam to the many flannel-clad twentysomethings. As a member of the visual majority, I too could pick out the influence of the Dirty Projectors and the National on the intricate orchestral pop of San Fermin.

And in Barnett’s shrug-filled delivery, I even heard a little Dylan. But on Monday I wanted to lose myself in these performances, and for two mesmerizing hours, they offered just that, as routine magic. Midway through her set, Barnett asked, “How is everyone doing? Good, great or average?” You could take a poll, but we all know that the responses would differ. Barnett—and her band—and San Fermin are two well-paired acts, touring as a curveball-to-fastball one-two combination. It’s tricky and off-kilter, but I imagine that every night is slightly different and new. And when it comes to live music, that is what you hope for. —Jared Levy




Augustines Take to the Streets

September 30th, 2014

Augustines – The Bowery Ballroom – September 29, 2014

Augustines – The Bowery Ballroom – September 29, 2014
Augustines have become synonymous with the tricky combination of moral victories and abject failures, if not unique, certainly associated with living in New York City. Theirs is a story of name changes, near misses and eventual triumph: Pela splitting into We Are Augustines and Thieving Irons, and then We Are Augustines becoming Augustines. After a performance on his show, it was finally David Letterman—a guy who appreciates tragicomedy—who suggested the band’s debut LP, Rise You Sunken Ships, as a bromide with which to face down struggle. The band took the stage at The Bowery Ballroom last night with a Billboard-charting second record, a movie about their ascendancy recently funded on Kickstarter, Rise, and maybe a bit of a crisis about transitioning from the band that could never get it right to the one that seemingly couldn’t miss.

Lead singer Billy McCarthy kicked off the show with “Headlong into the Abyss,” a song he closed with the coda “It’s good to be home. We’re going the distance.” But this was no conversational promise: The show would end more than two hours later out in front of the venue on the Delancey St. sidewalk. The band marched through their brand of underdog rock, playing “Chapel Song” and the pointed “Cruel City.” The latter prompted McCarthy to issue a pseudo-apology: “I might say some bad things about this town in the songs, but I got love for you all.” The New York City focus rarely left the band’s focus. In fact, McCarthy introduced “Waiting on the Stairs” by yelping, “This one’s for New York”—as if there were anything else to say.

The frontman launched himself from the top edge of the kick drum and brandished the neck of his guitar like a Tommy Gun to the delight of the assembled. An increasingly soft-at-the-edges McCarthy reaching for the top of the room proved to be something of an allegory. If the National stormed out of the NYC market with their willingness to replicate and repeat being miserable despite all evidence to contrary, Augustines continue to mine the against-the-odds narrative, even while the band approaches becoming an overdog. McCarthy still desired connection, perhaps the band’s enduring truism, first taking to the center of the room and then the street outside for an acoustic encore. This commitment to New York City was more than an aesthetic choice, McCarthy, sweating profusely, shed down to his undershirt in the unseasonable humidity of the Lower East Side, surrounded by his people. —Geoff Nelson

Photos courtesy of Greg Pallante | gregpallante.com

(Augustines play Rough Trade NYC on Friday.)


The Best Summer Festival Starts Tomorrow Night

September 4th, 2014

While it might seem like summer ended on Labor Day, not only does it last nearly another three weeks, but also the summer festival with the best lineup kicks off tomorrow night in Boston. That’s right: Boston Calling is back, and how. On Friday night, things get started with the National, Neutral Milk Hotel and Future Islands. And then the rest of the weekend is absolutely packed with Lorde, Childish Gambino, Girl Talk, Volcano Choir, the Hold Steady, Bleachers, Sky Ferreira, S. Carey and Clifflight on Saturday. Plus Sunday brings something for everyone with Nas, the Roots, the Replacements, Spoon, the 1975, Twenty One Pilots, Lake Street Dive, the War on Drugs, White Denim, San Fermin and Gentlemen Hall. So do yourself a favor and ship up to Boston this weekend.


The National Close Out a Three-Night Run in Prospect Park

June 20th, 2014

The National – Celebrate Brooklyn at Prospect Park Bandshell – June 19, 2014

The National – Celebrate Brooklyn at Prospect Park Bandshell – June 19, 2014
The National have become the kind of band that’s comparable to a loyal friend—someone you hear from at the turning of the seasons and make time to meet up with in a place that allows for conversation, perhaps over a Scotch. The meeting place last night was the enchanting confines of Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell, where the band concluded a three-night run in a triumphant mood, performing as the ambassadors they’ve become in the current realm of alternative rock.

The National make intimate and revealing music that’s emboldened by lush, emphatic musical composition. Vocalist-slash-existentialist Matt Berninger uses his aching baritone to establish intimacy with the listener, candid and honest about life’s troubles and his personal acquaintance with them. And behind Berninger’s stories of vulnerability hovers the musician tandem of brothers Dessner and Devendorf, there to paint in the emotive score, stirring in the drama and romance by using rock instruments with an approach closer to the aims of a symphony. For all of Berninger’s cerebral and introspective writing, the National have always brought out their impact more deeply through the bolstering drumming of Bryan Devendorf. “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” “Secret Meeting,” “Anyone’s Ghost” and “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” all charging percussive numbers, set a momentous tone and announced the band’s confidence on the grand stage.

Satisfied that the crowd was sufficiently captivated, the National took their time with the more sprawling pieces, “Afraid of Everyone” and “This Is The Last time.” And then by shifting up a notch with the galloping of “Squalor Victoria” and the panicked kicking of “Brainy,” they not only indicated the depth of each of their albums but also a sensibility of molding different frames of a live performance toward distinct shifts in mood and timbre. “England” directly following “Pink Rabbits” blended in elegantly near the set’s end before giving way to the show’s crescendo anthems, “Fake Empire,” “Graceless” and “Mr. November.” The National are indeed like old friends, purposeful and patient with their messages, reliably planted in their character, encouraging us to look upon triumph and disaster with equal measure and showing us the bravery of facing it all through their music. —Charles Steinberg

Photos courtesy of Greg Pallante | gregpallante.com


Brazos Close Tour with Ski Lodge Tonight at Mercury Lounge

December 17th, 2013

What began as a home recording project for singer-songwriter Martin Crane in Austin, Texas, has become, with the help of drummer Ian Chang and bassist Spenzer Zahn, the Brooklyn-based alt-rock trio Brazos. Crane’s debut full-length, Phosphorescent Blues, out in 2009, led to opening for big-name bands like Vampire Weekend, the National and Grizzly Bear. But he opted to expand his group’s sound with the addition of Chang and Zahn for the second LP, the more ambitious Saltwater (stream it below). The Austin Chronicle glowingly calls it “emboldened and expansive, torn between childlike wonder and quarter-life introspection.” Brazos (above, performing “Charm” live at Braund Sound) have been on the road with Brooklyn jangly pop four-piece Ski Lodge all month, and their tour comes to a close tonight at Mercury Lounge.


A Double Dose of Local Natives at Terminal 5 Begins Tonight

September 24th, 2013

Local Natives burst onto the scene in 2010 thanks to their debut LP, Gorilla Manor, filled with plenty of harmonies and dreamy melodies. After heading out across the world in support of the album, the L.A. quartet—Kelcey Ayer (vocals and keys), Taylor Rice (bass and vocals), Ryan Hahn (guitar and vocals) and Matt Frazier (drums)—returned with their sophomore effort, Hummingbird (stream it below), produced by the National’s Aaron Dessner, early this year. Pitchfork called it a “thoughtful, lovely album with small gestures that provide great rewards.” Those rewards become even greater when the songs are played live, and Local Natives (above, doing “Columbia” at Music Hall of Williamsburg), along with Wild Nothing, play Terminal 5 tonight and tomorrow.


Sixth Season of Venerable Live-Music Show on PBS Begins Soon

June 19th, 2013

This July, the sixth season of one of the best live-music shows, Live from the Artists Den, premieres on public television across the land, kicking off with Mumford & Sons, winners of this year’s Grammy for Album of the Year. From there, some more of our favorite bands, including Soundgarden—with their first-ever televised concert—the Killers, Ed Sheeran and the National round out the season’s impressive lineup, with each show filmed live in a different, nontraditional setting in the U.S. The season will air in the New York City area on Saturdays at 11 p.m., beginning 7/6, on WLIW21 (and late-night Saturdays/early Sundays at midnight, beginning 7/7, on THIRTEEN, plus Sundays at 10 p.m., beginning 7/7, on NJTV). For other cities, check your local listings here.


The National Play Hometown Show at the Biggest Venue in Brooklyn

June 6th, 2013

The National – Barclays Center – June 5, 2013

Last fall, New York magazine wondered if Brooklyn was finished. The cover story featured Barclays Center, a veritable spaceship of urban development that landed at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. But the arena as a new Brooklyn icon wasn’t truly finished until the National, a band whose Midwestern-displacement story mirrors many of the borough’s residents, took to its stage last night. As their fans—a bearded and craft-brew-swilling demographic hybrid of DIY and yuppie—clapped along, the band, avatars of Kings County’s mixture of aspiration and crooked shame, opened with “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” the sound of everything Brooklyn could and couldn’t be.

The early part of the set saw the National run through material from their latest, Trouble Will Find Me, mixed with songs from their previous two records, High Violet and Boxer. Playing “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “Mistaken for Strangers” and “Sea of Love” (before which they facetiously said, “We’ve played 35 venues in this city, and it’s great to be back here where it all started”), the National proved to be in sharp and slicing form, tumbling tom-tom drums colliding with Matt Berninger’s graveled baritone. The quintet then performed “Sorrow,” which they “knew better than any other” song, after playing it for six straight hours straight as performance art at MoMA PS1 just a few weeks ago. Somewhere someone bit into an artisanal sausage and washed it down with an IPA just as the song about being absolutely miserable forever rang through the rafters. It was Brooklyn, old and new, misery and joy, on display in the same moment for the band, clad in black and backed by a string and horn section.

Following a run of “Squalor Victoria” and “I Need My Girl,” the National ripped through “Graceless,” the down-tempo “Pink Rabbits” and “England.” The crowd waited for one of the five-piece’s signature tunes and perhaps the night’s defining moment, “Fake Empire,” a song ostensibly about the terrible mistakes of the second Bush administration but could just as easily have been applied to the coterminous power and hypocrisy of Brooklyn’s rise to cultural prominence. The band and their fans sang the title lyric with real vigor, staying out sort of late on a weeknight in the moment when Brooklyn found nothing left to do or prove. —Geoff Nelson

Photos courtesy of Brian C. Reilly | www.briancreilly.com


The National Hit the Big Time Tonight at Barclays Center

June 5th, 2013

The National are on a hot streak. But wait, let’s take a step back first. Although frontman Matt Berninger, guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner, drummer Bryan and bassist Scott Devendorf first began making music together in Cincinnati, upon relocating to our fair city, they’ve become the quintessential New York City band—appearing at Mercury Lounge more than 10 times, playing the first shows at both Music Hall of Williamsburg and Terminal 5, and doing an exceptional residency at the Beacon Theatre. And while their first four albums are beloved, it was their fifth, High Violet, which started to gain them more recognition. And now, back to that hot streak: On May 20th, the quintet performed “Don’t Swallow the Cap” on Late Show with David Letterman, above, the night before their sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me (stream it below), was released to near universal acclaim. The band celebrated its release the next day with three intimate shows, capped off by another appearance at a very sold-out Mercury Lounge. The buzz built even further with the National’s festival-closing performance at the inaugural Boston Calling the following weekend. And now they’ve officially hit the big time as the Brooklyn band plays the biggest venue in that borough, Barclays Center, tonight. Not only shouldn’t you miss it, but you should also arrive early enough to see Youth Lagoon.


Boston’s Calling …

May 24th, 2013

While summer doesn’t technically start ’til June 21st, the summer season kicks off today, with the beginning of Memorial Day weekend. And what better way to do that with a music festival featuring a lineup that kicks all 11 kinds of ass over the course of two days and nights at the Boston Calling Music Festival. Tomorrow’s docket includes fun. (above, performing “Some Nights” on Saturday Night Live), the Shins, Marina and the Diamonds, Matt & Kim, Portugal. The Man, Cults, MS MR, St. Lucia and Bad Rabbits. Not to be outdone, Sunday features the National (below, doing “Bloodbuzz Ohio”), Of Monsters and Men, Young the Giant, Andrew Bird, Dirty Projectors, Ra Ra Riot, the Walkmen, Youth Lagoon and Caspian. Pretty great, right? So what are you waiting for? Head directly to Beantown and spend your weekend rocking out.




The National – Mercury Lounge – May 21, 2013

May 22nd, 2013

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

(The National play Barclays Center with Youth Lagoon on 6/5.)


Great Music for a Worthy Cause

May 20th, 2013

Philip Glass, Real Estate and Friends – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 19, 2013

The Big Sur Brooklyn Bridge Festival, a weeklong series of events organized around Williamsburg by the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, Calif., brought together iconic modern composer Philip Glass along with a well-curated bevy of local musical talents at Music Hall of Williamsburg last night for the festival’s closing concert. Many of the evening’s performers cited the influence and inspiration that Glass’s music has had on their own—and this is perhaps most apparent in the music of pianist and composer Nico Muhly, who performed movements from his dynamic composition “Drones & Piano” with the help of violinist Tim Fain, violist Nadia Sirota and guitarist Bryce Dessner, of the National, who took a cue from the others and used a bow on the strings of his guitar.

Citing Glass’s ability to “do so much with so little,” Dessner also performed a solo guitar improvisation wherein he drew sound from his electric guitar without ever touching the strings. Holding his guitar upside down, Dessner masterfully manipulated the instrument utilizing distortion pedals and feedback, banging and scraping the neck of the guitar on the floor, and using his hands to tap out rhythms on the back, managing to craft an impressively cohesive piece, sans strings.

Rounding out the evening’s contributors were Real Estate, doing a melodic, mellow performance, and wry-pop songwriter Sondre Lerche, who self-deprecatingly asked, “What am I doing here?” while treating the crowd to a lively set that included “Sleep on Needles,” which the singer noted was a song Glass seemed to enjoy during sound check. With the rest of the artists having set the mood for the arrival of Philip Glass, the composer was warmly welcomed onstage, and began by collaborating with Fain for a rendition of “Pendulum.” Glass then brought out everyone else to perform “The Chase,” from his opera Orphée, announcing somewhat amazed: “We actually figured a piece that we can all play together.” Indeed, like much of Glass’s work, the up-tempo piece was hypnotic and lively, and had a unique edge due to the electric-guitar heavy band. For the encore, Glass appeared alone at his piano, closing the show with the fittingly titled “Closing.” The song was spare and beautiful, and along with the tributes from the other performers, an example of his singular talent and profound influence. —Alena Kastin



Youth Lagoon – The Bowery Ballroom – March 6, 2013

March 7th, 2013

Photos courtesy of Diana Wong | dianawongphoto.com

(Youth Lagoon open for the National at Barclays Center on 6/5.)


Sharon Van Etten and Friends Play Town Hall Tomorrow Night

November 14th, 2012

Like many before her, Sharon Van Etten came to New York City from New Jersey in order to make music. And despite her East Coast upbringing, Van Etten sings of Middle American—universal, even—themes, but she does so in her uniquely powerful voice. The talented singer-songwriter has put out three folkie albums, including this year’s acclaimed Tramp, which Rolling Stone says “plays like a female version of Beck’s Sea Change.” The album was a bit of an all-star affair, with appearances by the National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and a host of others. And when Van Etten (above, doing “Give Out” for Minnesota Public Radio) plays Town Hall tomorrow night, she’ll be joined by Aaron Dessner and Wasner, plus Thurston Moore, John Moloney, the Antlers’ Peter Silberman and Megafaun’s Brad Cook.

Exclusive Video: Trey Anastasio Plays New Album’s Opening Track

October 17th, 2012

While guitar god Trey Anastasio is best known as the frontman and guitarist of Vermont quartet Phish, he’s put out a number of solo albums, including Traveler, which just came out yesterday. Above, at The Wellmont Theatre, the Trey Anastasio Band play the LP’s opening track, “Corona,” which Rolling Stone calls a “shimmering, love-versus-the-apocalypse ode.”

In making Traveler, Anastasio got to play with musicians from some of his favorite current bands, including members of the National, Bon Iver and Mates of State. While rehearsing at The Wellmont, he discusses the new material, playing some orchestra shows and working with Broadway musicians. Watch the interview: http://tbp.im/Wn0YpV.

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