Live Review: The National @ Hollywood Palladium, September 21, 2018
Closing in on their 20th year as a band, the National are a well oiled machine, operating at their peak, both in their craft and its presentation. Now on the back-end of touring in support of 2017’s Grammy winning Sleep Well Beast, the National machine roll into town for a pair of up-close general admission shows at the Palladium. It’s a treat to see them in the stripped down, in the club setting, no massive visual production, a nice contrast from the big Hollywood Bowl stage, which they headlined last Fall. As such, the Friday evening show had a fittingly looser, raucous, all around fun vibe.
While the 5-piece band are reliably solid and it can be easy to take the musicians for granite as strong players (Aaron Dessner gets his moment to step forward on the big guitar solo on Beast standout “The System on Dreams in Darkness”; he and brother Bryce raise axes and jab the air in rockstar poses a couple of times) but it’s singer Matt Berninger that’s the obvious focal point of the National live show. And he’s in good form tonight.
Looking California casual in short sleeves, loose limbed and pacing the stage, thoughtfully scratching that chin scruff, he’s as restless as ever. It’s his unique vibe for a rock front person – uncertainty, relatability, empathy –no small part of his appeal to his fans. New piano ballad “Light years” is the quiet opener, a promising early dispatch from some future release perhaps. From there, the set list is heavy on both Sleep Well Beast as well the preceding Trouble Will Find Me. As good as Beast is, there’s a some sense tonight that Trouble is well worth revisiting; those tracks particularly resonant tonight. “I should live in salt” back to back with “Don’t swallow the cap” is an early set high point. “I need my girl,” gets guest vocals by hometown upstart singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, who graced the stage with a strong opening set with her band.
As a rule, “Mr. November” and “Terrible Love” are the encores and, as always, it’s just a matter of how deep into to the crowd Matt will end up, microphone cord length permitting. Tonight, he makes it all the way to the stage right front bar, bringing a surge of fans with phone cameras with him, shouting “It takes an ocean not to break” with him. He makes it back to the stage and following the singalong “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” we’re out of there, a thoroughly satisfying two-hour show.
This a band taking chances and trying unique things with the platform they’ve been afforded. From their successful Homecoming festival in Cincinnati this past Spring, to establishing their Cherry Tree membership community this year, to the upcoming There’s No Leaving New York mini festival shows this weekend, they’re pushing things, offering their fans a premium experience. It’s just a matter of what is next; they take it up a level on every release. They’ve earned the trust to do what they want; their the fans will follow along.
Nobody Else Will Be There
The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness
Walk It Back
I Should Live in Salt
Don’t Swallow the Cap
I Need My Girl
This Is the Last Time
Dark Side of the Gym
The Geese of Beverly Road
Day I Die
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
The National | americanmary.com