There was little doubt walking into The Wiltern last night that I was going to enjoy THE NATIONAL live. With some bands you just get a sense that they will transition live based on what you hear on record. Bands that have a large amount of interplay between members and a clear understanding of pacing on record usually put on a pretty good live show. So allow me a few thoughts on what I experienced last night:
1) Credit the band with starting the night with "Start a War". The song live builds nicely a set a tone for the evening. On most nights they open with either "Mistaken For Strangers" or "Anyone's Ghost". These were slotted down to two and three and allowed the audience the chance to get prepped.
2) Even though this was my first time seeing them, the band is obviously tour vets and has a much more powerful live sound. The guitars crash and shred through the songs and the drums have a larger power live then on record (which is surprising given that drums are usually very prevalent in the final mixes of most of their songs).
3) The newer material does not suffer by comparison to the older songs. "Bloodbuzz Ohio", "Afraid of Everyone" and "Lemonworld" hold their own and will surely be in the live show in some form for awhile.
4) Even songs I am not particularly fond of, such as "Baby, We'll Be Fine", played well live. This is a testament to Matt Berringer's conviction to making each song have a distinct feel. When your voice is that unique it helps even the lesser material shine.
5) They deliver on a set list that's for sure. 21 songs and almost two hours (including all but one of the new songs.) Well done indeed!!
6) Kudos to the band (or their management) for getting a quality opening act. RAMONA FALLS were very good in their own right. When you wake up the next day and rehash the show in your head and it includes songs from the warm up act, that's a testament to the chops of the first act to take the stage. However, if they ever want to get anywhere the lead singer is going to have to speak at some point.
7) The ending of a show is of particular importance. This is usually reserved for their more popular songs. With THE NATIONAL, that includes "Mr. November" (which got the second to last spot) and "Fake Empire" (which ended the main set). Both were brilliant and worth the wait and yet...
8) Special props to the version of "Terrible Love". A gutsy move to end with a new song (which U2 tried with "Moment of Surrender" on the last tour and flopped) but here it was a good call. The band clearly enjoys playing it. It's tempo and sound sum up the night well and was well received by the crowd. A new classic was born.
So what does all this mean. THE NATIONAL are amazing live. Like there was going to be any doubt.