NXNE Critical Conclusions for The National (North By Northeast 2013 Concert Review)

The big act at this year’s NXNE and the centrepiece of the Yonge-Dundas Square free concert series showcase was a band from Brooklyn called The National. Heard of them? They’re friends with President Obama, so they have some influence. Heck, they even made a documentary and had it play at both the Tribeca Film Festival and Toronto’s Hot Docs. It’s a must watch – surprisingly, absolutely hilarious. But enough about unrelated arts, let’s talk about the free show.

I haven’t seen a show in Yonge-Dundas for awhile, so I was slightly unsure about the video and lighting situation. I was a fan of the Blue Jay game being shown on a screen high above the stage, totally unrelated to the festivities below. It also helped that the Jays were kicking some ass.

The National @ Yonge-Dundas Square (Copyright: PeteHatesMusic / Martin Bazyl)

The National @ Yonge-Dundas Square (Copyright: PeteHatesMusic / Martin Bazyl)

Speaking of kicking some ass The band opened with new album opener, I Should Live in Salt, written about singer Matt Berninger’s brother Tom, who directed that documentary that I mentioned above and probably should’ve mentioned here in some kind of amazing segue. Don’t Swallow the Cap followed, and they brought along some horns, which really complimented their sound.

The horn-complimenting (new adjective) continued on Bloodbuzz Ohio. The band joked how it was nice to play in a place with no distrctions. They made several references to the Beyonce video that playing on the Eaton Centre video screen. It turns out they had a better view than we did all night. The guys also realized there was a baseball game on above them, so the jig was up – time to pay attention.

The National @ Yonge-Dundas Square (Copyright: PeteHatesMusic / Martin Bazyl)

The National @ Yonge-Dundas Square (Copyright: PeteHatesMusic / Martin Bazyl)

Sea of Love followed, and then a couple of well-received tracks off of the last album – Afraid of Everyone and Conversation 16.

Bryce tried to lead a clap along to kick off Squalor Victoria, but was quickly mocked by Matt. The song was an upbeat version, brimming with horns blasting. I’ve never been a fan of how he screams Squalor Victoria at the end of the song live, and this time was no different.

Matt gave a shout out to Jian Ghomeshi as it was on his show that it was the first time they ever played I Need My Girl live. They noted that they think they fucked it up, but they did better this time around. They only mildly fucked it up

After running through This Is the Last Time and older songs Abel and Apartment Story, the band slowed things down with Pink Rabbits. People in the crowd started to leave in small groups, but the ones that stayed swayed. That seems grammatically incorrect, but I am my own editor, so it stays.

England was next and the crowd cheered louder than I thought, so I clearly didn’t realize this was a fan favourite. Matt’s first of two ventures into the crowd happened at the end of the song. He came back germ-free, thanks to some Purell that he was given.

A newer track – Graceless – followed, and then a slightly more obscure track – About Today, which is from the Cherry Tree EP back in 2004.

The last song of the regular set was the rousing live track, Fake Empire, which always has a great live spin. Last night was no different, with the horns and the tempo driving the track.

The encore kicked off with Humiliation (the song, not the name for my high school prom night), followed by Matt’s second foray into the crowd during Mr. November. Matt really needs a cordless mic, as he went deep into the crowd, with the wire in the face of the front few rows of fans. One overzealous fan got into the security area and jumped around frantically, and was restrained by 2 security guards (well at least from what I can tell from the video screens).

The National @ Yonge-Dundas Square (Copyright: PeteHatesMusic / Martin Bazyl)

The National @ Yonge-Dundas Square (Copyright: PeteHatesMusic / Martin Bazyl)

The last two tracks were from their second last album, High Violet. First up was Terrible Love, followed by a ballsy, a capella / acoustic mic-less version of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks. The crowd was urged to sing along, and those that know the song did, but it was subdued since not a huge single.

The new songs came off well live, with the trumpet and trombone adding a nice angle. It was a somewhat mellow song ordering from The National at times, also leaving out the hit Slow Show (despite fan requests). However, if people showed up not knowing The National, they should’ve gone home fans after Friday night.

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PHM Rating for The National: 8.5 out of 10

Setlist for The National @ Yonge-Dundas Square, Toronto, Canada – June 15, 2013

1 – I Should Live in Salt
2 – Don’t Swallow The Cap
3 – Bloodbuzz Ohio
4 – Sea of Love
5 – Afraid of Everyone
6 – Conversation 16
7 – Squalor Victoria
8 – I Need My Girl
9 – This Is the Last Time
10 – Abel
11 – Apartment Story
12 – Pink Rabbits
13 – England
14 – Graceless
15 – About Today
16 – Fake Empire

17 – Humiliation
18 – Mr. November
19 – Terrible Love
20 – Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks

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