Saw the National last night in their second of 5 sold out shows at the Bowery. Now occasionally a band does this week long tour of duty at the Bowery amidst a huge amount of buzz and pomp and circumstance. Usually it means that the Bowery will be crawling with hipsters (as it was the last time I went to one of these The White Stripes in early 2003.) but for the National the crowd looked surprisingly plain. However the acted like hipsters and talked through the whole show, but let's not get into a subject that will allow withdrawal to turn this newly non-smoking human into a raving angry lunatic. Suffice to say people needed to shut the fuck up. I wanted to scream out "Go back to Williamsburg motherfuckers" at one point, but I think the band live there... so it might have been misunderstood. Well even with people talking... being at the Bowery after 3 shows in a row with that crap Webster Hall sound system was great. the Bowery Ballroom has some of the best sound in New York, all bands should play there.
Anyway the music was fantastic all night. Opener Doveman produced beautiful, elegant, passionate, discordant music. I will shortly attempt to but their entire catalogue. Sweet laments were sung with the vocals placed way out in front of the mix of banjo, trumpet, drums, piano and guitar. The singing style reminded me of Yo La Tengo, that gentle touch with the words. The played a version of Only Love Can Break Your Heart that would have made Neil Young cry.
The National came out and rocked, with a set consisting mainly of Boxer and Alligator. The new album is excellent even though it stays away from the straight up rock numbers like Mr. November and Abel which stand out on Alligator. Boxer is a more mature record, one that from front to back creates and sustains the listener. The one exception to the set list of the last two albums was Wasp Nest, one of my personal favorites. They were refreshing as the hot new thing, no gimmick save the lack of one really. They definitely looked as though they had moved here from the Midwest and had yet to be completely assimilated into NY culture (good thing). The singer seemed very nervous yet extremely into what he was doing. He wondered about the stage occasionally screaming at or away from the mike, holding up his mike stand like some sort of religious totem. When I asked the person with me if she thought the singer was into it she responded yes... but that he was a little lost.
Paraphrasing now what she said
'He wonders around the stage like he's lost, then all of a sudden he goes down to the ground, like he has something really important to do down there, then he gets up and really excitedly does a few seal claps with his wrists like he's really proud of himself for whatever it is he did on the floor.'
This is actually a perfect description of the behavior of the singer on stage, it was awkward but sincere. He seemed to be uncomfortable while enjoying the music. The rest of the band shared the slightly uncomfortable but into it vibe. The violin player in particular seemed to want to punish his instrument. All in all... good shit. They play 3 more times at the Bowery (Wish I was going) then again for free at the South Street Seaport 8/17.