Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Interlude: Apartment Story

I hadn't been to our own Kimmel Center for a show for quite some time, but last Thursday provided an opportunity that I couldn't pass up. A week after two sold out shows at BAM, the National were somehow playing here. Despite having a midterm the next day, I immediately marched to the ticket office, to find out that they weren't on sale yet. A couple tries later, I secured a pair, something I failed to do in the last...five instances they were in town. As usual, the night offered a couple fresh listens by way of openers, but it was definitely a show that belonged to the headliners.

Two typos. For shame.

Maps & Atlases

Chicago's Maps & Atlases dealt in mutated pop songs. The five-piece filled the room with quirky guitarwork, curious percussion and breezy vocals. While there were hooks, they weren't built from melodic so much as energy. Some of the more histrionic bits reminded me of Danielson, but one man's incredulity is another's enjoyment. While they didn't win me over completely, there's some interesting stuff going on here.

MySpace: Maps & Atlases
Official Site: Maps & Atlases


Phosphorescent is essentially Matthew Houck's project. The Brooklyn-by-way-of-Georgia songwriter was joined by a couple more guitars, keyboards and drums. He began the set in curiously backward fashion, wailing, "Turn off the light/'Cause this party's over." A couple unsettling screams accompanied this part, and I have to admit the prospects of me enjoying the band looked slim. However, the band soon settled in, and Houck sang a folksy ballad that was far more approachable. The twangier moments were offset by vaguely post-rock segments, making the whole set somewhat schizophrenic. Unfortunately, as is the case with these sorts of shows, the crowd chattered during the quieter moments, lessening their impact. In that regard, it was somewhat nice to see the massive, feedback-drenched bits drown everyone out.

MP3: Phosphorescent - Wolves (Live on the East River Shore)
MySpace: Phosphorescent

The National

At this point in Boxer's touring cycle, the live performance has become a bit of a formality. There isn't too much that seems spontaneous. Instead, we have a band that's made the most of measured expectation, meticulously crafting a sound that's become intimately familiar. So it wasn't entirely accurate when singer Matt Berninger crooned, "We expected something/Something better than before" on opener "Start A War" - the crowd got exactly what it expected. Shortly after those lines, Berninger asked for the lights to be dimmed. While an inconvenience as far as photos went, the dim stage provided the perfect incubator for the band's slow burners.

Along with the usual horn section, the band brought along an ensemble of strings, lending an orchestral elegance to certain songs. And despite the sparsity of many of their creations, the band almost always injected a sustained wall of sound for each outro, giving the place good reason to freak out. As always, explosive Allligator entries "Abel" and "Mr. November" saw Berninger cast off his drab baritone for a lacerating yell that elicited many cheers - and I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one screaming along. Still, it was a night of introspection, rather than anthems. The beauty of this band is their little sounds, whether it's a guitar line or a murmured verse, and even in the rawer live setting, they are stunning.

I guess there isn't too much left to say. By now, most people have formed their own opinion on the National, but if you haven't given them a chance, I can't stress how highly I recommend them. While differing a decent amount from much of my usual fare (girls singing soprano, synth squelches and the like), no other band has captured my adoration for such a long period of time. I suppose they won't be written about on here for quite sometime - I'm not really sure if I'm making it to that massive R.E.M. date - I'm sure I'll be playing Boxer for as long as I'm listening to music.

Here's the National at last year's Austin City Limits, recorded on September 16th, 2007. Enjoy!

1. Mistaken For Strangers
2. Secret Meeting
3. Brainy
4. Baby, We'll Be Fine
5. Slow Show
6. Squalor Victoria
7. All The Wine
8. Racing Like A Pro
9. Apartment Story
10. Abel
11. Fake Empire
12. About Today
13. Mr. November

Entire Set: Mediafire
MySpace: The National
Official Site: The National


Noctisaura said...

It was a lovely show. And even if the National's performances are to be expected, they still rock.

Gavin Riley said...

The National are a great great band. Boxer seems to have taken them up a level that i didn't think they could go to.

Good stuff.....

Max said...

Nicely written reviews, as always.

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