The National at the Air Canada Centre; Thursday December 8, 2011

“All the National’s songs have been my favourite tunes at some point” – Natalie Broomhall

I was a little wry to go to a show at the Air Canada Centre, but for some reason when tickets went on sale, I just didn’t care.

They call it the “theatre set-up,” where they chop up the hockey arena into a third of what it normally is. It’s basically the hockey arena of Massey Hall. I was astonished that people were willing to see this band way up in the 300 level seats, looking down on everyone and everything. I was really pleased that I could snag a decent seat, I managed to get a second row seat, more or less in the centre.

We waddled in around 8:30pm, just as Neko Case was finishing up her set. I adore Neko, and I’m a little crushed I couldn’t see them again. I’d already saw her play in Chicago this year, so I felt a little more at ease with this decision. Heard her bellow out a song I wasn’t too familiar with as I walked in. I was also a little crushed they didn’t check bags more thoroughly as I had left my camera at home. I really wish I had brought it, could have taken some really remarkable photos.

I wasn’t overly thrilled with my second row seat, but I had a good view of everything. I was a little heartbroken by the empty general admission area in front, filled with only 150 people. Lead singer Matt Berninger told the crowd he was sorry about the front, as they couldn’t allow more people because it was a health and safety issue. Everyone booed his comment, and he said back “You all hate health and safety?” You could tell he wasn’t pleased with this set up. Three-quarters of the way into the set he said, “You know, with an all-access pass you can bring more people into this area…” He then walked over to the section to my left and flashed his pass, with about a hundred people spilling onto the stage. Similarly, a dude flashed his pass at us and we launched onto the stage as well. It was really something else. I had a strange rush, like I felt I had done something wrong, but I was beaming ear-to-ear. I found myself comfortably wedged in a super polite crowd, just so grateful to be where they were rather than in a seat. It was really fun because I could actually move to the music. Seated at the ACC means I’m bobbing up and down and slapping my leg to show any feeling at all to the music. Confinement ain’t so fun. It was sort of nice to shake the sheets a bit because the security was so strict when it came to people moving around at this gig.

Spending six or seven songs at the front was such a pleasure. They played heavy hitters – “Fake Empire” and “Mr. November.” I was expecting Berninger to hop into the crowd for “Mr. November” but this time around he did no such thing! Rather he held it off for the next tune “Terrible Love.” It was pretty incredible to see this guy trek up thirty steps and walk across half of the arena. No one was left out, all sides had been graced with Berninger’s presence. It was pretty incredible to see this dude sing an entire song walking around and lounging beside and with people. At one point, he threw himself next to a guy and just slinkied down next to him. The guy was playing it cool, but I’m sure he pissed his pants with excitement. It was also sorta neat to watch the crowd swivel around to see what Berninger would do next. The cord that his mic was attached too swung over our heads and we had to hold it up in the pit.

I think the most memorable moment was their unplugged version of “Vanderlyle Cry Baby Geeks” the closer to their latest release High Violet. They announced to the crowd they’d need everyone’s help for this one, including openers Wye Oak (WHO I MISSED AGAIN!)

The song has the most catchy chorus:

Vanderlyle, cry baby, cry
Though the waters are risin’
Still no surprising you
Vanderlyle, cry baby, cry
Man it’s all been forgiven
The swans are a swimmin’
I’ll explain everything to the geeks

All the very best of us
String ourselves up for love
All the very best of us
String ourselves up for love
All the very best of us
String ourselves up for love
All the very best of us
String ourselves up for love

(may be “the” instead of “love”)

It was so lovely to be so close to hear this, Matt Berninger was giving it for this one, as were the Dessner twins. I don’t think it would have been so powerful if I wasn’t so close to the action.

I first fell in love with this band at Coachella 2011, or rather days before with the song “Mr. November.” My awesome friend Chris made me a super mix and gave me all their albums. I was initially a little turned off by the odd baritone voice Berninger sported, but after watching this video I was hooked:

It’s pretty amazing that “Mr. November” was released on their 2005 album Alligator. To think I could have been in love with this for six years already.

In all honesty, it was a slow burn love for the National. If you didn’t like em’ the first listen you really gotta give it another try… I only just fell for High Violet and when I say fall, I mean falling hard. I’ve been cooped up in my academic bubble in the company of this album. It’s just so flawless. “Conversation 16” is my choice song. It sounds so lovely recorded.

He introduced this song as a song about Ohio (where they’re from) and claimed there were a lot of cannibalistic folks in the state. He warned everyone to not go there…

Berninger has claimed that the tune was about his uncertainties about being a father. After a bit of thought, it seems that he’s worried about being a zombie in life. Kind of out of left field*, but totally works for some odd reason:

“I was afraid, I’d eat your brains. I’m evil. ‘Cause I’m evil”

The other song I oddly gravitated towards was “Afraid of Everyone” because of a Kiersten Holine cover!

The cover:

They played both tunes, but I really wasn’t blown away by either… Probably because of where I was sitting at the time.

Should also mention Owen Pallett made an appearance for a few songs and the “Vanderlyle Cry Baby Geeks” closer. He jumped out to play a song he’d never heard before, a new tune called “I Need My Girl,” as played for the first time on CBC’s own Q hosted by the wonderful Jian Ghomeshi. Bon Iver also makes an appearance on the Q episode as well!

The National also made an appearance at the second Bon Iver gig this week!

A few Coachella 2011 clips that make my knees buckle to relive, they used a lot of the same video footage and video effects at the concert at the ACC. It’s so amazing to recall how you remember a show when you don’t know the tunes!

The two shows I’ve seen this week have been at monster venues, at both I’ve sort of felt an intimate vibe. I really appreciated reading Berninger’s thoughts on the band’s growing fame:

“The obvious shift is that the venues are bigger. We do work really, really well in the smaller clubs. With our live show it’s harder to have that intimate sort of intense connection with an audience when there’s 10,000 people. I’ve seen Radiohead do it. I watched R.E.M. connect with the back row of a 50,000-seat venue. If we’re so lucky to get anywhere remotely as popular as playing to 10,000 or 15,000 people I think we’re going to go for it. That whole thing of being the cool, legitimate underdog—we had that thing for a while—I think all of us are ready to drop the “underappreciated” sort of thing. We’ve been doing this for 10 years. We’re ready to come out of the shadows. People have been thinking that we’re about to break since Alligator and we never do. It’s never been that kind of a huge thing. We slowly crack; it’s never been a big explosion. We’re still moving forward in that way, and try not to think about it too much.” AV Club

And my personal favourite question and answer:

AVC: Has being a dad changed your perspective on being a singer in a rock band? Do you ever think, “Maybe I shouldn’t drink on stage anymore” or anything like that?

MB: It hasn’t affected it much other than that I’m going to try and tour a little less. It’s hard to be away but it always was. When I was single, I had a hard time being away from home and just floating from place to place with so much time on highways or people’s floors. That’s the same. I’ll try and bring my wife and daughter on as much touring as possible. My wife, she knows I would not be as good a father or a husband if I were miserable and not able to chase this and stuff. So she’s been unbelieavably supportive and involved for years now. I’m going to keep drinking on stage. I have a pretty healthy relationship with alcohol. I know how far to go and when to stop.

AV Club

* Rumored to originally describe fans who came to Yankee Stadium to see Babe Ruth (a right fielder) but who bought tickets for the wrong side of the field. Another legend is that the phrase originates from Chicago’s old West Side Park which had a mental hospital located behind left field. Visiting players came to refer to something as odd to be ‘out in left field.’ The flaw in that story is that Cook County Hospital was behind third base, not left field.

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One thought on “The National at the Air Canada Centre; Thursday December 8, 2011

  1. Pingback: Sasquatch! 2014 aftermath one: The National | for the trees

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