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The National
Bimbo's 365 Club - Jun 27, 2007
review by lexicon

I waited, ticketless, for hours to see these guys. Twice. On both occasions, I left the show elated.

This afternoon, I sat on Columbus (the road, not the explorer) for 3 hours, accompanied by 24 ounces of Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic and the hilarious and lovely folks in line with me. Before I knew it, I had my ticket. Totally painless (it's great to be a teacher in the summer).

Now, the show. Pause. Go get your copy of Boxer. Look at the cover. Mentally excise the tables and all the empty crowd space and replace all that with a packed house of happy young folks. I will not call them hipsters, though hip they were, because this crowd was fantastic - friendly, smiling, and polite. It was deeply refreshing. To everyone there, thank you.

Anyway, back to your cover. Look at those little guys on the stage - 2 sets of brothers and a tall skinny man. That's Matt, and his voice will melt your heart. Deep, soothing, and melancholic, it is molten bittersweet hot chocolate by the fire on a cold night.

Last time I saw Matt, about 18 months ago at the Mezzanine, he had 4 fingers of scotch glued to his hand through the whole set and I don't think he cracked a smile. Indeed, at one point, he was gripping his drink and swaying so violently, all the while singing with his eyes closed, that he was sloshing his drink all over his arm and the stage. (Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that about half the crowd left before they'd come onstage. Folks were apparently there only for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the poor fools.)

This time, he had a keg cup of "vitamin water" (his quotes, not mine), but he seemed in much better spirits, smiling into the mic, engaging with the audience, just happier. And of course, his voice was as haunting as ever as they played the majority of Boxer, much of Alligator, and a few selections from Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers and Cherry Tree.

See how on the cover they look pretty unimposing? Well, that's a ruse, because The National, especially live, pack a punch. One moment, they have you swaying gently to a stunningly beautiful and simple song like Slow Show; before you know what's hit you, Matt's doubled over, screaming "my mind's not right" into the mic as everyone else onstage pounds their instruments. But, the band's true feat is that the music is so tight, the sound quality so stellar, and the band so confident, that the dramatic change in sound and mood, at times within a single song, is not jarring at all. Rather, you are right there with them, wanting them to keep mixing it up because it's so damn moving.

Tonight, the entire band was on point, with energetic solos from all members, and an overall sense of ease and casual confidence. The electric violin (viola?) player was singularly amazing: playing his strings like a champ, then gliding into an arm-wrenchingly long, impossibly fast and tight tambourine bit on another song, then into a lovely piece on the small piano, some back-up vocals, keyboards...whatever they needed, he was on it like, well, a pro. He was awe-inspiring to watch.

So, with their rough elegance and casual catharsis, The National is a show worth waiting for. Even if it takes hours. I, for one, will be on that sidewalk.