All the way back in 1999, the Ohio-based indie band The National was formed. Matt Berninger, Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and Scott and Bryan Devendorf make up the band that released their seventh studio album this year. They’ve been all over the place – they are very politically engaged, and some of the members are also in other bands. Matt Berninger is the singer and songwriter for the band El VY in collaboration with Brent Knopf (you might know him from Ramona Falls or Menomena), and Bryce Dessner just released Planetarium in collaboration with Sufjan Stevens, James McAlister, and Nico Muhly. As busy as they are, they still have time to tour.
On December 5, The National showcased their new album, Sleep Well Beast, at the newest DC venue: The Anthem. I’ll begin by saying just how much I love the band. I rated Sleep Well Beast with a whopping 4.5/5 stars when it came out earlier this year, and I’ve been listening to The National for many years. That said, I was very disappointed in their performance, particularly Matt Berninger’s performance, at The Anthem. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from a live performance, but it’s certainly not what we got.
The concert got off to a rocky start, with Berninger clearly drunk before he stepped onto the stage. After forgetting the words to “Santa Clara” and deciding to skip to the next song, he tossed a cup of beer into the air. He sounded a bit worn out for the whole night and would yell incoherently between sets. Fortunately, the rest of the band was there to back him up, along with the amazing lights and the great venue.
The set list was subpar (in my opinion) – I would have loved to hear “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” or “Afraid Of Everyone,” but with so much music, they understandably have to cut some songs out. For me, the highlight of their performance was when they played “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “Dark Side of the Gym” and “I Need My Girl” one after the other. I hope to forgive and forget this performance and assume that it wasn’t a normal show. The National will still remain one of my favorite bands, and I can live with a bad performance here and there.
Listen to Sleep Well Beast here:
and if you were at the concert on Tuesday and want to actually hear “Santa Clara,” you can do so here:
Photo: Susanna Herrmann