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