The National @ Central Park Summerstage

06Aug08

Let me just take this moment to personally thank Mother Nature for not raining on me during The National’s concert at Central Park Summerstage on Monday. I have now come to expect rain, or at least the threat of rain, at every outdoor event I attend this summer in NYC, so needless to say I was quite pleased. Oh, and I didn’t have to wait in any lines to get inside the gates, yet another big plus.  I had last seen the band perform in an incredible show at an opera house in Brooklyn, so I was curious to see how their songs would come across in the open air of Central Park. Sometimes a band’s sound is easily diffused in the outdoor setting, but The National seemed to handle it just fine. Since the band’s songs are a mix of contemplative ballads and full-out rock songs, I can now see why the band can go from opera house to outdoor stage.  Outside, the loud songs were louder, while at the opera house, the softer songs were more confined and precise.

The National played many songs from their album, Alligator, as well as the more recent, Boxer.  They opened with “Brainy” and followed with songs like “Start a War”, “Mistaken for Strangers”, “Fake Empire”, and “Secret Meeting.”  In addition to regular band members Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Bryan Devendorf, and Scott Devendorf, three musicians playing the trumpet, trumbone and oboe were added to the mix.

When he was not performing his lyrical duties, Beringer (who does not plan an instrument while singing) paced around the stage, with his back to the audience, contemplating life, or maybe just trying to not get overwhelmed by the moment. He awkwardly claps, not really to any beat, but more of a “let’s do this thing” motivational way.  And he seems to check in with various band members as they play, sometimes joining them, as he picks up a drum stick and takes his turn on percussion.  I was looking forward to see what Berninger would do with “Mr. November” and he did not disappoint, well, except for the minor technical difficulty.  Right as he was beginning his vein-popping delivery of the chorus, he seemed to stray too far to the side of the stage and the microphone became unplugged. But he continued on, belting out “I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November
I’m Mr. November, I won’t fuck us over”, despite the fact that nobody could hear him.  Luckily, the crew member restored the microphone connection, and the song continued on. I don’t even think Berninger knew it happened.

A special addition to this particular show was the artwork that acted as a backdrop on the stage. Consisting of eight painted canvas panels, the layered images seemed to continuously morph as the stage lighting varied throughout the show. Elements of the painting were illuminated during some songs and virtually hidden during others, so it never felt like a static display.  During “Fake Empire”, the words “Half Awake” (part of a lyric) appeared across two panels. Though they seemed to appear out of nowhere, you soon realize they were there all along.

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