The National at Red Rocks – September 17, 2013
I can remember reading somewhere that The National is a band “for those who liked the Strokes as a kid and then grew up and realized they had to face the world”. One listen to their latest album, Trouble Will Find Me, and you can practically feel the depression oozing out of the speakers. So, in anticipation of their Red Rocks show on September 17th, I was expecting to do the hipster sway and let lead singer Matt Berninger’s deep, hauntingly beautiful voice wash over me.
And one day later, as I am still reeling from the raw, powerful performance I witnessed, I’m so glad I was wrong.
As the band came out on stage, every row of Red Rocks rose to their feet. The band opened with “I Should Live in Salt”, the first track on their latest album, enveloping the crowd with a sound that highlighted the beautiful cohesion this band has developed since coming together in 1999. Band members Aaron and Bryce Dessner exchanged looks with Berninger, as if they knew how amazing they sounded, reveling in the crowd’s energy.
Then they began amping up the sound. They picked up the tempo with their next five songs, including “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Sea of Love”. As the band played, the lights spewed vivid colors and the digital screen behind them lit up with intense graphics of water, blood, and paint, contributing to the magnificent sensory overload for the audience.
While I took in the whole musical experience, I couldn’t help but watch Berninger onstage, pacing back and forth in his full suit and tie, occasionally grabbing a glass of white wine and simply carrying it around stage. In between songs he insisted that he looked like Bono in U2’s “Veritgo” video with the wind and smoke, joking around and simply loving his life in that moment.
The band continued, playing in a few more songs (including one of my favorites, “Conversation 16”), and then they busted out “Squalor Victoria”, a song off their album Boxer, unleashing Berninger’s voice as he screamed “SQUALOR VICTORIA” with pure, unabashed power. I was floored by the emotion in the song, the sound hitting the crowd and forcing them to move with excitement and emotion.
The boys hit a couple more songs off their current album, and tossed in a few good “oldies” (2003 seems like 200 hundred years ago, right?), closing the set with “Fake Empire”. One element I loved was their trumpet and trombone player, adding beautiful balance to each piece and proving the theory (my theory) that brass can turn a song into an instant favorite.
Thankfully, the band reemerged for an encore, and during “Mr. November”, Berninger casually hopped the guardrail and proceeds to walk through the crowds of utterly shocked fans and finishes the song in the mid-rows of the Rocks, not before he passes the last of his wine bottle to an audience member. I personally adore when musicians make ridiculous moves to interact with the audience, because we are their fans who support them album after album, and it’s always nice to remember they care about us too.
They finished with “Terrible Love” off High Violet, a must when listening to the National. Just when the crowd thought it was time to say goodbye and return to our average lives, they broke down the set, move the whole band to the front of the stage, and performed and acoustic version of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”. It was utterly beautiful listening to Berninger’s deep baritone couple with the soft strum of the guitar, as the whole crowd sang along with gusto as they said goodbye to a band that left their mark on our beautiful Red Rocks.
Review by Jordan Thornlow