This was my 2nd and 3rd time seeing NYC’s (by way of Cincinnati), The National. I was first exposed to them via their 2007 album, “Boxer” which earned widespread critical acclaim and awoke many to their existence. I immediately fell for that album and ended up diving headfirst into their back catalogue, which is also stellar.
Needless to say, I was extremely excited they were coming to a city I have ties to for two nights, including a show on my birthday (4/23).
I first saw The National at a festival and I can’t say that I was impressed. This was no fault of theirs, I was just a mile away from the stage and was completely disconnected. The tunes were good, but I could not feel the performance. This was rectified over two nights at Richmond’s historic “The National Theatre” (dunno if this was intentional or not), which is a restored early 1900’s performance hall and was a perfect venue for this wonderful band.
Thursday night’s gig was the band’s first gig on their headlining world tour in support of their new album, High Violet, which was reviewed earlier on this blog. Opening this evening, was Richmond band, Marionette, who I had never heard of before. Marionette was quite capable and put on a good set. I recommend you to check them out, especially their song, Orchid, which has become a staple the last few days.
The band took the stage both nights at approximately 9:45 p.m. which was perfect. The Thursday show started a bit questionably. While singer Matt Berninger’s baritone was razor sharp and pitch perfect, they were plagued by some problems in the mix and Matt forgetting some lyrics! However, these very minor snafus were quickly overcome and the band sailed through a setlist of 19 songs, expectantly heavy on “High Violet”. I was very glad that I had listened to the leak before the show as it helped me appreciate the new material even more.
The highlight of the Thursday night show was the enigmatic “About Today” which is a highlight of their “Cherry Tree EP” and is one of the most moving tracks I’ve ever experienced live. Another highlight was Matt coming into the crowd during “Mr November” and getting right in some fans faces and singing with us that were situated near the back of the floor.
Another highlight was the Boxer classic, “Squalor Victoria” which was opened with an extended drum solo by Bryan Devendorf. This was one of the first tracks that made me say “wow” when I heard this band and live the song rips roofs off of venues. Berninger’s vocal was on-point and the crowd sung along fervently as the rock gods smiled down upon Richmond during this amazing moment.
The show was swift and over by 11:30 and was closed with a raucous version of the lead track off of High Violet, “Terrible Love“.
Friday’s show was a bit different. While the band was not plagued by the technical issues or lyrical forgetfulness of the first night, it was plagued by a different sort. A hipster-heavy, frat boy laden crowd that never seemed to be able to shut their mouths during the songs. While I respect everyone’s rights to enjoy a general admission show to the best of their ability, I was a bit disappointed with the lack of respect so many people showed the bands on this evening, at least around me. Opening act this evening, was French duo, ARLT, who I found interesting, but were not suited for this crowd or opening for this band. ARLT would be perfect on a rainy Sunday morning while reading the paper, but not for a rock concert. The lack of respect shown for ARLT made me embarassed to be in Richmond this evening. This experience did not turn me off to the show, as I just moved to the balcony to enjoy the music. It was a different vibe up in the balcony and I was able to soak in the music appreciatively.
One thing that really made me happy with the Friday gig was the setlist changes. Again, it was heavy on High Violet, but they also added some old classics, like “Daughters of Soho Riots” into the mix, which was exquisitely performed by Berninger and company.
The overwhelming highlight of both gigs for me was High Violet, which was played in full over both nights (minus one track each night). I feel that this is the band’s best work to date and is their most accessible work as well. The new songs fit in with the old like your favorite old shirt and a new pair of jeans.
I am very happy that I got to experience this band in this type of setting. The venue is a gorgeous building with excellent acoustics and some very cute girls working behind the various bars (I counted 4 bars in a venue with a 1500 capacity), whoever the ticket taker girl was on Friday night, you are gorgeous! I’m eagerly anticipating my next visit to Richmond to see Camera Obscura at the same venue in June. Give me a holler if you’re going!
For me, Thursday night’s gig was stronger from a few perspectives. I preferred Thursdays setlist (Squalor Victoria and About Today were not played Friday) and the crowd was a bit more laid back and appreciative. Friday was far more raucous, which I completely understand, but it was far less respectful of fellow patron and band alike. That being said, I cannot wait to see this band again, which is coming up in July at another festival. I just hope I get the opportunity to see them in a venue this size again, as I fear an arena may be their next destination.
Thursday 4/22 – *****/5 – Top ten gig of all time for me. Ive been to at least 500 gigs in my life, so I rarely can say this!
Friday 4/23 – ****/5
All in all, if you are a fan of the band or know nothing about them, go see them live. They are easily one of the best live bands on the planet.