The night I fell in love with pizza cooked on a barbeque was the same night I fell in love with The National. I was in a backyard in Ojai, all the men were drinking whiskey, and Citronella infused the air… I should have penned my first novel there and picked up a life long chronic smoking habit. The host of the night played Boxer and High Violet back to back over the speakers, and I got goose bumps from the sound. I revisited that summer night in Ojai last week when I saw The National at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. No barbequed pizza, but plenty of whiskey and goose bumps.
The night began with the LA premiere of Mistaken For Strangers, a documentary about singer Matt Berninger’s younger brother Tom, presented under the guise of being a documentary about the band. It’s funny and cheeky, but what catches you most off-guard is that it seems scripted. For a band that comes across as so honest and sincere, it feels like a little bit of a rip off. But maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe they are trying to show everyone they’re not so serious all the time. Whilst it didn’t deliver any revelations about the band or its members, I did learn two pretty important lessons – at one point, Tom asks bassist Scott Devendorf if he carries his wallet and ID on stage with him when he plays, which I have oft wondered about bands at shows. The answer is Yes. The other cool thing I learned is that you have to disinfect your hands with sanitizer before you shake hands with President Obama.
As for the show, The National absolutely nailed it. There were song dedications left and right – ‘I Should Live In Salt’ for Berninger’s brother, ‘I Need My Girl’ for his wife. The projected graphics dancing on the wall behind the band were incredible, the colors and patterns meshing perfectly with each track they accompanied. What blew me away the most was how many good songs The National have. I must have muttered to myself “so, so many good songs” no less than 5 times. Just when I thought I’d heard all the ones I love, they reminded me I loved more. But there is no song that I could love more than ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio.’ When Berninger sings “I still owe money, to the money, to the money I owe / I never thought about love, when I thought about home”, I feel like someone’s just read my diary.
Berninger had necked a bottle of red by the time he missed his cue to start singing somewhere toward the end of the set, and he got real pissed about it. You know you’re watching a really great band when they lose their cool over something they see as a monumental fuck up, and you don’t even flinch because you’re used to seeing much, much worse. These guys are musicians for a living and for breathing, and they are so tight that when ‘Graceless’ rolls around I cannot fault a single fiber of their collective being. I felt like I was constantly being moved while I was standing still. And when Berninger finished the encore with ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’, and the crowd wailed along, it felt like all the very best of us were moving together. All the very best of us, stringing ourselves up for love. Repeat x 3.