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Ethan’s Review of The National (and The Antlers) at Radio City Music Hall

In Gigs on June 22, 2010 at 8:44 pm

The other night, three friends and I saw The National, and part of The Antlers’ opening set, at Radio City Music Hall. I was gonna write a review but my friend Ethan S. wrote such a good one that I felt I couldn’t say it any better myself. So below is his review, which can also be found on his blog.

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Last night I saw possibly the best musical performance I have attended by one of my favorite groups, the National, at the beautiful Radio City Music Hall. Their performance had many moments that knocked me on my metaphorical ass. Singer Matt Berninger’s screaming during “Squalor Victoria”, the buzzing of “Apartment Story”, various songs that sounded shockingly different and improved in the context. The experience reached its peak for me during the encore, when after playing the song “Lemonworld”, the several band members joked about how many versions of that song they had played, and how it seemed to change night to night. Berninger stepped up to his mic and stated, matter of factly, “I thought that version was perfect”, right as the instrumentals for what seems to be the band’s anthem, “Mr. November”, kicked in. During the song, Berninger literally climbed up the boxes on the side of the hall up to the first balcony, going around the entire theater, still singing with accompaniment by whatever members of the audience he happened to be by. He ended the song just under the second balcony where I was peering over the edge. I couldn’t have touched him, but I probably could have spit on him. As I looked down on who I guess is one of my heroes, I had some sort of amazing emotional transcendence, which is basically a bullshit way of saying I can’t describe how I felt but I knew it was important.

One of the most impressive things about the group and their performance was how completely genuine it seemed. So much of the indie rock scene is so clearly pretentious, even to the point where it seems like some bands like Vampire Weekend exemplify their contrived qualities. This pretension seems to go along with the territory of liking this kind of music. Very few passionate fans of any kind of art can honestly claim to at least have had portions of their life where they haven’t been snobby about whatever they are into. I try to be as tolerant as mentally possible about what other people listen to, as far as judging them, and I probably do a decent job, but I mean, I obviously think the music and movies and books I consume and think about and value are the best, otherwise why would I value them so highly? Anyway, the original point of this tangent was to illustrate that one of the most surprising things about seeing the National in person is that they are anything but contrived. Berninger’s screams, swims (not surfs) through the audience, and other onstage theatrics seem to completely from the way he envelops himself in the performance. For many groups, it seems that their individual songs are akin to a sketch comedy show, with individual skits and breaks in between, but for the National, their show seems more like a full length movie or play, with rising and falling actions and a natural conclusion.

My friends and I always spend a lot of time at concerts pointing out funny people (and facial hair) dancing like idiots, fist pumping and air playing, mostly because however much we try to hide it we’re shockingly immature. Still, at shows like this, the reactions from the audience served as a demonstration for the power of the musical connection with people. There seemed to be a shocking number of people at the show who genuinely felt (in my almost certainly incorrect assumption of their thoughts) that the band was playing to them specifically, at them and for them. These people had no qualms about acting so silly in front of so many others because they, just like the band, were drawn in by the power of the live performance. This momentary suspension of disbelief, where one loses tracks of the physical place they are in and becomes part of the art they are experiencing is one of life’s great mysteries for me, and I imagine what makes so many so passionate about the things in life that are supposed to be entertainment. It gives one faith in humanity that so many people can gather together and for a moment, for a song or for an evening, become elevated in some way, living together in their own world for a few hours. Even if you don’t appreciate the music of a certain band, going to their concert will impart on you the very real connection they have with those who feel so passionately about their music and persona. There is a very genuine but entirely intangible and immeasurable power present in concerts, music, little moments with friends, and other small beauties through out your day that essentially is what helps keep everyone going. At the very least, the performance I attended inspired me to write out this rambling at 9 am on five hours of sleep on an empty commuter bus going to Manhattan. Coffee helped as well, but the romantic side of me is going to give most of the credit to their performance last night.

-Ethan S.///

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  1. […] my good friend Ethan, who’s review of The National show at Radio City Music Hall we posted a little ways back, wrote an excellent review of Julian Lynch’s album Mare, which […]

  2. […] NOTE: This is the same Ethan that wrote that excellent review of The National’s show at Radio City Music Hall, as well as other quality pieces of music journalism. He is now going to be a main contributor to […]

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