Concert Review: Daughter, The National @ Massey Hall, Toronto, Ontario
The venue was Massey Hall. The band was The National, playing a run of 3 straight nights in Toronto. The result was a very enjoyable Thursday night – better than my usual ‘eat a bag of Doritos and then search the couch for crumbs’ agenda, which ends up in tears more often than not.
The National also roped in the very talented London trio Daughter to open all 3 nights for them. Readers of PHM will know that we interviewed Daughter last spring, and also caught them play in both Toronto and Montreal at Osheaga. Yup, we dig them, like a man digs a bag of Doritos. This post is not brought to you by Doritos – yet.
Although we’re reviewing the Thursday night show (Night 2), we have some photos from Wednesday night’s show. We’ll tie it all together when a time machine finally gets invented, but for now, dwell on some words. If you dislike reading, then click here for some photos, or check out our Facebook album for the complete gallery (and give us a Like for the heck of it).
Daughter are about to follow up their debut album If You Leave with a digital EP of a live session they recorded with a 10-piece classical ensemble. You can check out Shallows and Tomorrow once you’re done memorizing this review. The band, fronted by the ever-shy Elena Tonra, played to a reasonably full house, walking on stage without an introduction and getting right into the music.
The three-piece act has a touring member with them on keys, and played their mellow songs in a dimly lit stage (I’m amazed Martin got any photos for PHM last night!). Smother was a gorgeously played track, with soaring dynamics and vocals. As the set wore on, the mix of the vocals was a little better, not blending in with the tracks as much, and giving them the isolation they need.
After running through songs like Winter, Youth, and Tomorrow, Daughter left the stage to a receptive crowd, with some fans yelling the were there to see them and not the National.
However, the National were the band the vast majority were there to see and they did not disappoint. The ushers were warning us it was a loud show and even handed out ear plugs. I’m too
foolish rock and roll for ear plugs, and the show wasn’t TOO loud, but I appreciate the gesture.
The band kicked things off with Don’t Swallow the Cap, with singer Matt Berninger pacing around the stage at the end of the song and barking stuff to himself, looking like he was mad at something, but ultimately part of his bit. The band was backed by a video screen that showed largely unimpressive clips, blended with shots of the band.
I Should Live in Salt was next, and was a bit faster and rockier to start. There were 2 brass players at the back helping out on most songs, which unfortunately didn’t do it for me on this night. They just didn’t fit with this song, and were mostly drowned out.
The title of the band’s recent, must-see document was third. Mistaken for Strangers also had trouble fitting in the horns with the band. Matt continued his pacing, muttering to himself and yelling at the drummer. I’ve seen the band about a half dozen times and don’t think I’ve seen this stage behaviour from Matt before.
The band launched into Sorrow, follow up by a feedback-filled intro to Bloodbuzz Ohio. It took a few tracks, but the band were beginning to find their groove.
The first great performance of the night came with Sea of Love, a song that is leaps and bounds better in a live setting. Instead of keeping the high tempo, the band switched gears and slowed down their frantic last song with Hard to Find.
Afraid of Everyone brought the pace back up, and was an outstanding live track, as usual. It brought more walking around and ranting from the wine-sipping singer.
Conversation 16 and Squalor Victoria saw the Matt continue to walk to interesting places, including some accidental surfing on the front monitor as he stepped over it and tipped it down.
Some slower tracks followed, with I Need My Girl being played before This Is the Last Time, which had its dramatic ending tempered slightly and less effective than the album version.
Guitarist Bryce Dessner announced the next song was for his mom, and said it was her favourite National song. He also noted she wasn’t there to hear it, as she was at home with his daughter. Hilariously, drummer Bryan Devendorf launched into the wrong song, before an abrupt start and then restart to the mellow song, Wasp Nest.
Matt went from mellow to vocal-shredding with older track Abel. Slow Show followed, with it’s nice mixof piano and harmonies, with the ending not as explosive as it typically is in a live setting.
The horns and piano blended nicely in Racing Like A Pro, and continued for Pink Rabbits and England, the latter of which was another intense song by the band.
The band were definitely building towards a big finish, as they kept the tempo up with Graceless, and capped off the set with Fake Empire. Matt started yelling at the horn players, which is a weird game to play when on stage. He then threw his wine glass in the air, and it smashed as Matt walked off the stage, and a mop and broom guy had to clean up while the band went off for an encore. Maybe he’s selling the shards on eBay?
As the band came back out for an encore, Matt gave out a bottle of wine that he had chilling on stage to some guy in the front row, and then also gave out some plastic cups to share. How awesome is that? Humiliation kicked off the encore. Live favourite Mr. November was next. That song is so high energy and upbeat that it has to be in the encore – it’s such a great way to blow away the crowd, how can it be anywhere else in the set?
What started off sounding like a Champagne Supernova cover turned out to be Terrible Love. Matt ventured into the crowd, walking with his mic and long mic cord all over the floor, climbing over seats, and walking to all sides of the floor to about 10 rows back. If you had a friend on the floor, I’m sure you’ve seen the videos on Facebook or Twitter by now. Very cool stuff.
Like they did in their free, Yonge-Dundas Square gig last summer, the band played Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks acoustically, without a mic for Matt. Instead, Matt led the crowd in a mass singalong. This was executed much better than Yonge-Dundas, namely because everyone in the venue was a fan of the band, and the acoustics are way better in Massey Hall than outside. An interesting way to end a set, and a testament to the quality of the crowd to not let the band down.
Overall, the band performed in their typical, solid workmanship manner. There was some rust as the band are beginning their tour, but the antics of Matt and the rousing nature of several of the songs qualify this as another fine gig from the band that, like the wine Matt was drinking, ages very well.
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PHM Rating for Daughter: 7.5 out of 10
PHM Rating for The National: 8.5 out of 10
Setlist for The National at Massey Hall, Toronto – April 10, 2014
1 – Don’t Swallow the Cap
2 – I Should Live in Salt
3 – Mistaken for Strangers
4 – Sorrow
5 – Bloodbuzz Ohio
6 – Sea of Love
7 – Hard to Find
8 – Afraid of Everyone
9 – Conversation 16
10 – Squalor Victoria
11 – I Need My Girl
12 – This Is the Last Time
13 – Wasp Nest
14 – Abel
15 – Slow Show
16 – Racing Like a Pro
17 – Pink Rabbits
18 – England
19 – Graceless
20 – Fake Empire
21 – Humiliation
22 – Mr. November
23 – Terrible Love
24 – Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks