The National

support Phosphorescent
author TL date 11/11/10 venue KB Hallen, Copenhagen, DEN

It's Thursday night, and I've just stepped into KB Hallen. Frankly I'm still a little surprised I'm actually here, since tonight's The National concert has been sold out for a while, and seeing as Concerts.dk still cling to their stone-age politics of only accrediting printed publications, there was never really any hope of me getting a press pass for this gig. Fortunately, my girlfriend is obsessed enough with The National to have somehow secured some black market tickets some two hours prior to the show, so my being here is a result partly of her dedication, and partly of my own scrambling to make it from home and to the show in time. I haven't quite succeeded, seeing as I'm still in my coat and the support band Phosporescent are already playing. Before I get into their part of the review however, let me just set the scene for you:

If you think The National are a hip, scarcely known indie band, then you may think again. As the sold out status of the gig would suggest, KB Hallen is packed, and not just with hipsters, rather with a very broad mix of people, both young and mature, both alternatively and normally dressed. People in their late twenties are having loud conversations of the type you have after a few pints, and of the type which you find annoying when you haven't (hence I prioritize getting a pint, over getting my coat to the cloak room). I note that probably every single checkered shirt in Denmark is being worn in this venue tonight, but halfway into formulating a clever theory about indie really just being 'the other mainstream', I remember my priorities, give up on trying to be clever, and just turn my attention to the band on stage.

Phosphorescent

In all honesty however, I'd forgive both myself and the remaining crowd from being easily distracted while Phosphorescent are playing. The band is a six piece who play a brand of indie/alternative rock that's tinged with the usual dashes of classic American music. The amount of attention that's been left for them at the sound board, has not been enough to set them up for success in the face of KB Hallen's less than stellar acoustics, and hence, the finer points of both music and vocals are lost to the echoes of the massive room. Couple that with the fact that the band is not really the type to be much into crowd interaction, and it's hard to really feel like we're being warmed up. Instead, it feels like Phosporescent are more of a backdrop to the mingling of the growing crowd. Taking myself very seriously, I discipline my attention and direct it at the stage for a while regardless, however, with mediocre sound and lacklustre lighting, I can't get past my impression that this band is either too old-fashioned, or maybe really just annoyingly safe and contemporary in their chilled out, Ryan Adam-esque country-pop-rock. Later listens on myspace will reveal that this is indeed more suited for soothing you while you chill around your apartment, making tea on a cold day, than it is for ever really getting you excited about anything. As a support band experience, I'd say this is balancing somewhere between decent and pointless. Maybe if someone here cared it'd be different, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

The National

As it at least fitting however, the imaginary care-o-metre starts to show considerably higher measurements as soon as the lights dim for the second time, and The National enter the stage. Just as the mood thickens, so does the sound quality improve, and as the band opens with "Runaway", I am much delighted to find that the mixing perfectly accomodates the band's very delicate soundscape, with both singing and the individual instrumental parts standing out clear as day - Something which is needed when you're the kind of band that is so entirely about the listening experience, as opposed to things like stage antics or crowd interaction. Unfortunately, that impression is tarnished a bit, as the band progresses into songs that are slightly more noisy, and the layered sounds of both horns, bass and distorted guitars starts to blur into each other slightly. While it all still sounds perfectly enjoyable while I'm wearing my trusty earplugs, taking them out for a moment reveal that things aren't consistently nice to listen to, at least where I'm standing. But what does that matter, I know you all are nerds enough to all remember your earplugs at gigs right? Either way, I make a mental note to appreciate how The National must indeed be a class act, making things sound as good as they at least do, balancing six instruments in an intricate sound, while Matt Berninger's dark, softly sung voice demands for his microphone and monitor to be adjusted with maximum sensitivity.

While I'm making such observations, The National are making their way through a setlist that focuses mainly on their two latest albums, "High Violet" and "Boxer". It's almost redundant to try and name highlights, given the ridiculously high standards with which The National have been operating for a while, but with possible bias, I would say that things are particularly awesome during favourites of mine like "Afraid Of Everyone", "Bloodbuzz Ohio" and "England", however, a song like "Daughters Of The Soho Riots", which I couldn't have named prior to the gig, also stands out brightly in my post-gig memory. People who haven't seen The National in concert before get a (possibly shocking) surprise during "Squalor Victoria", as Berninger breaks out his manic Jim Morrison-esque scream, made extra grating by his super-sensitive microphone. While the performance of the song is really good, I still question why exactly Berninger decides to do these screams in the live setting. After all, even at its most intense, The National's music doesn't qualify as something you'd expect screams in, and I'm sure more than a few audience members, having bought tickets with only casual knowledge of the band, are scared a bit by such unexpected displays of frustration. On the other hand, Berninger and friends don't seem like a band that ever asked for mainstream appreciation, so maybe this is just their way of getting in everyone's little faces for a bit.

Regardless, the show carries on in a manner you could call uneventful, except for the brilliant songs that flood the audience in a seemingly unending stream. Except for the occasional raising of a guitar or stamping of the mic stand, The National aren't the kind of band to mess around too much on stage, nor is their music the kind that inspires too much jumping, dancing or shouting along. Some of the more well known cuts do receive impassionate singalongs from groupings around the venue, but that is about it as far as what goes on other than the playing of music. At least when it comes to the regular set, which ends with "Fake Empire". Even though that was the 17th song of an already long show, noone's really surprised, nor headed home, when the band comes back for an encore after an appropriately short break. The extra quartet of songs is opened with "All The Wine", which has already had a few shouted requests tonight, and the singalong for it is arguably the loudest of the night. It's followed by "Mr. November" during which Berninger again screams passionately during the song's memorable refrain. Now, my memory might be a bit off on the next part, but if I remember it right, it is during the next song, "Terrible Love", that Berninger decides to do a round along the seated tribunes in the sides and back of the hall, trailing a very long microphone cord over the heads of the entire crowd. Naturally, this pumps the mood somewhat, but it's not as special as when the band closes the show with an entirely unplugged performance of "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks", playing the song with nothing but horns, acoustic guitars and the strength of their voices, orchestrating a very intimate singalong to close the night down.

All in all, The National showcase with all possible clarity that they're a very good and very special band, and it is no fault of theirs when I ultimately leave a few marks off the grade for the show. That omission you can rather attribute to the hindering acoustics of KB Hallen, and the slightly too relaxed feel of the crowd. Considering the emotional intensity of this band's music, one could easily imagine how special their show could be, in a slightly more intimate venue, with a more dedicated crowd. Tonight, the magic is simply interrupted on occasion, by people shouting drunken gibberish between songs, or poking you from behind and saying "excuse me", when they expect for it to be entirely okay for them to leave for a song to get beer for themselves and their friends, and then be allowed passage right back to the front rows. I mean really, is this a cinema or is this rock concert? You leave, you lose your place, right? Anyway, nevermind these final notes of malice. Like I said, The National are almost entirely awesome, and I'd be interested in being immersed in a live show of theirs almost any day.

8

Setlist:

Runaway

Anyone's Ghost

Mistaken For Strangers

Bloodbuzz Ohio

Brainy

Slow Show

Squalor Victoria

Afraid Of Everyone

Available

Cardinal Song

Conversation 16

Apartment Story

Sorrow

Abel

Daughters Of The Soho Riots

England

Fake Empire

Encore:

All The Wine

Mr. November

Terrible Love

Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks

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