Review: The National @ The Bell House

13Mar10

It’s sort of strange to leave a concert and realize you can’t listen to the songs again for a few months, but such is the case when you attend a last minute hush-hush pre-tour teaser of a show. But I am not complaining, last night’s performance by The National was a great show and left me really looking forward May 11th release of their next album High Violet.

Perhaps the band felt they needed to do a little warm-up type of show to get back into the groove of touring. But if they were nervous at all, I can tell you that they have nothing to worry about. Sure, they were playing to a hometown crowd of people-in-the-know, but the whole flock of musicians onstage seemed to be energized and working well together, and Berninger’s voice was in tip-top shape.

In addition to the usual suspects—lead singer Matt Berninger, Scott Devendorf on bass, Bryan Devendorf on drums, and guitarists Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner—the band invited Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman) and Padma Newsome (of Clogs), a horn section and additional percussionists.

There was definitely some wait time after opening band Buke and Gass finished performing. I used that time to admire the venue. I realized that Goldilocks would love to see a concert at The Bell House. It’s not too big, not too small. It’s just right. It was a packed house, but not uncomfortably so, and you can’t have a bad view at the place. And I just really like the chandeliers.

Last night I felt like I was watching a performance of “The National in Silhouette.” And I liked it. First of all, the Bell House is well-equipped to offer lighting design for their shows, and The National took advantage of this. With a blank canvas backdrop, hues of red and blue set the tone for the evening. There wasn’t much in terms of spotlights on band members. Occasionally white light would reveal their faces, but many times I watched black silhouettes moving in front of a blue background. I figure the band appreciates this too, since they could probably actually see the crowd.


The band played a bunch of new songs, including Sorrow, Anyone’s Ghost, Runaway and Terrible Love. And they also performed a lot of great songs off of Boxer and Alligator, like Mistaken for Strangers, Secret Meeting, Brainy, All the Wine, Fake Empire, and Abel. Berninger moved around the stage in his usual fashion, but the small and crowded stage sort of limited him to a modified box step.

The highlight for me was during the three-song encore, when Berninger made his way off the stage and into the crowd during “Mr. November.” He stopped to sing with a guy right near us. Turns out the guy had been involved recording High Violet. Then Berninger made his way to the small section in the back, where he proceeded to find his wife, hop onto the ledge of the seating area and do a balance beam routine…all while belting out the chorus of “Mr. November.”  And he ended like this:

Can’t say I’ll ever experience that sight again. With tour stops at Radio City Music Hall and the Prospect Park Bandshell, I think the band may have to remain onstage. Too bad.

Check out the band’s performance of “Terrible Love” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:

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