If a steady stream of adoring press coverage, including a critically acclaimed new album, High Violet, are any indication, the National's moment seems to have finally arrived. And if after nearly 10 years of playing tiny clubs to increasingly larger, more affectionate crowds, the Brooklyn quintet is moving on to grander things, then selling out New York City's Radio City Music Hall is surely part of it.
The National have a well-deserved reputation for tense, brooding ballads, but Wednesday's night's set proved that what they really want to do, and what they do better than almost anyone else, is make great, turbulent, cathartic rock'n'roll.
The band seemed a bit timid during the first few songs, which may have had something to do with the bass-heavy mix. But by the fifth tune, "Secret Meeting" (off 2007's Alligator), the mix opened up and Matt Berninger's deep baritone cracked for his first scream of the night. The National had hit their stride.
They pulled their best performances from the edgier, more restless corners of their catalogue-older tunes like "Apartment Story," "Squalor Victoria," which the boys extended into a triumphant coda, guitars blazing, and a jubilant "Abel" (introduced with a wink by guitarist Aaron Dessner as "our most delicate song"), which had Berninger and his three-piece suit out in the audience crawling over the orchestra section seats.
Still, as evidenced by their brilliant new record, brooding remains a major part of The National's agenda. And they brought a few melancholy friends onto the expansive Radio City stage to help them out. Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, showed up in a tiny orange dress to play piano on High Violet's tear-in-your-beer closer, "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks." Sufjan Stevens then sang delicate harmony, along with Clark, on the roiling "Afraid of Everyone."
Whenever he wasn't singing, Berninger's nervous energy had him lurching across the stage-hands raised or clapping out of time.
During encore song "Mr. November," he rambled up to the second-floor balcony, trailing an endless mic cord behind him. As he fumbled along, dangerously close to the gallery's edge, Berninger assured his audience that everything would be all right. "I'm Mr. November! I won't fuck us over! I won't fuck us over!"
It was easy to believe him.
1. Mistaken for Strangers
2. Anyone's Ghost
3. Bloodbuzz Ohio
6. Slow Show
7. Squalor Victoria
8. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
9. Afraid of Everyone
10. Little Faith
12. Conversation 16
13. Apartment Story
15. Daughters of the Soho Riots
17. Fake Empire
20. Mr. November
21. Terrible Love