Piers Barber appreciates a special night in New York as The National bring the curtain down on their latest tour.
The grand and imposing Beacon Theatre adopts an extra special ambience midway through New York’s Christmas season. High off the success of a remarkable year, the National are the perfect band to fill this historic space on a crisp December evening.
This is the sixth and final night of the band’s run at the Beacon, and also the closing night of a mammoth tour which has seen them take to the road for a year and half. A six night residency at such a historic venue is, of course, ultimate proof of the prestige recently acquired by this remarkable band from Ohio, who after four critically acclaimed albums and two excellent EP’s, were launched into popular consciousness through the success of their most recent album, High Violet, earlier in 2011. Justifiably bursting with pride, the band’s chirpy and considerably drunk band members tonight treat a dedicated audience to an especially triumphant and celebratory performance.
Strutting on to stage backed by the sound of Duran Duran’s ‘Wild Boys’, the band open with the fragile ‘Thirsty’ (“Take these girly arms/And ever keep me”), a song which delivers an instant taste of the characteristic vulnerability of The National’s music. The song, taken from the band’s second album Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, is also early proof of their desire to use the show to explore deep into their extensive back catalogue. Whilst the set features seven of High Violet’s eleven tracks, it also comprises highlights such as ‘Daughters of the Soho Riots’ and the ‘Geese of Beverly Road’ from Alligator and ‘Mistaken For Strangers’ and ‘Fake Empire’ from third album Boxer.
High off the success of a remarkable year, the National are the perfect band to fill this historic space on a crisp December evening.
Some of the show’s most remarkable moments come as the band abandon their delicate guitar strumming and fragile crooning and embrace their inner-rock star. Backed by sizeable brass and string sections, the band pack a surprising punch when they crank up the intensity, filling the large arena with a deafening sound. A particular highlight is ‘Abel’, during which lead singer Matt Berninger, backed by frenetic drumming and exhilarating strobe lighting, threatens the existence of his vocal chords with his repeated screeching of “My mind’s not right” throughout the song’s chorus.
A five song encore includes the unveiling of a new track, ‘I Need My Girl’, a deeply moving, acoustic guitar-led attempt to portray the conflicting emotions of living away from a special girl in a distant country which, for a brief, remarkable moment, leaves the audience in a stunned silence. A frantic, exhilarating ‘Mr November’ follows, which sees Berninger launch himself into the audience as Aaron and Bryce Dessner thrash away on their guitars with a worrying lack of compassion for the well-being of their instruments. In a touching finale, Berninger calls out the band’s crew onto the stage to take part in a totally unplugged rendition of ‘Vanderly Crybaby Geeks’, which they sing backed solely by a lone acoustic guitar and haunting trumpet, as well as 3,000 voices in the crowd who, in accordance with the festive spirit, are encouraged to sing along.
It a touching conclusion to a truly significant breakthrough tour. Berninger and his bandmates for now bid farewell to their fans, who depart into the New York night eagerly anticipating what 2012 will bring for a group who finish this year truly at the top of their game.
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