- April 2011 – Coachella, CA
- Nov 2011 – ACC
- Dec 2011 – Beacon Theatre, NY
- May 2013 – Sasquatch, WA
- Sept 2013 – Laneway, MI
- Mar 2014 – Massey Hall
- Mar 2014 – Massey Hall
- Mar 2014 – Massey Hall
- Sept 2014 – Riot Fest, TO
- Oct 2014 – Dream Serenade
- June 2015 – NXNE
- Nov 2015 – EL VY at the Opera House
- June 2016 – Hamilton Church
- June 2016 – Field Trip
- July 2015 – Eaux Claires Music Festival, WI
- Dec 2017 – Hamilton, ON
- Dec 2017 – Niagara Falls, NY
I did the big count this morning to realize that I’ve seen the National play seventeen times. That’s seventeen times across five American states and countless Toronto gigs.
I have seen them play a wide variety of settings, including:
- Formal concert setting
- Festival setting
- Full-band charity benefit setting
- Stripped-down charity benefit setting
- Church show
- Free show
Sunday’s Hamilton show was a formal concert – fancy light displays, jumbotron-type backdrops and the National’s trademark uniform, business casual attire. As the band ages, they adopt a more relaxed attire, although front-person, Matt Berninger, still black leather dress shoes. All other members seem a bit more relaxed – drummer Bryan Devendorf wore his usual trucker hat, but in highlighter yellow. The Dessners with their scrappy and wispy hair – Bryce’s just a bit more kept than Aaron’s.
Fashion aside, they played a dynamite set, comprised of mostly tunes from the darker, more monotone new album, Sleep Well Beast. They played a variety of songs from older albums, but showed no preference for their older catalogue. This tour, unlikely any other gig I’ve seen, had the agenda to promote the new material. At all past National gigs, I knew that I’d hear certain older songs. Thanks to extensive set list posting on their Instagram page, I sadly and excitedly had expectations that sets would vary and that new material would be in full swing.
Low – Very little from High Violet and Trouble Will Find Me; Despite being in the third row, the venue refused to let anyone into the front area of the stage. Everyone diligently stood on the ground floor as the National entered the stage.
High – Roomy floor section seats! When Berninger hopped into the audience for Mr. November, he knocked off Adam’s hat. I chuckled as my date was clothes-lined by my favourite band; the National’s pump up music prior to taking the stage was “Sadly Beautiful” by the Replacements and as they walked on the stage was “Shark Smile” by one of my favourites, Big Thief. I was in absolutely gleeful knowing that the National dug the same tunes that I do. I shamelessly sang along to the catchy chorus of the tune.
At thirty years old, Angel Olsen has reached a point in her very established career where she can release an album of B-Sides. With four full-length recordings to date, Olsen is an artist that varies her style, but never at the cost of quality of sound.
Being my third time seeing Olsen live, I found this time to be more playful and lighter spirited. Somehow, with minimal audience engagement and a tight hour and a half-long set. Olsen jested to the crowd “We’ll be playing here again tomorrow”, as if she was playing a regular residency at a tiny club.
Early on in the set Olsen showed some love for one of her guitarists, acknowledging that it was his birthday. Some extra hoots and woos were given and the guitarist playfully pointed at his heavy left hand that donned a ring on its fourth finger. Upon filing back on stage for the encore, the guitarist cheekily said to the crowd “No one’s sang me Happy Birthday yet.” Immediately the audience started singing and a bit disorderly, Olsen chimed in with the same song at a different pace.
I suspect part of this enjoyment and a playfulness came from a place of comfort and establishment as a musician. Unlike the last few times I’ve seen her, she wore a race car driver body suit, except in solid metallic gold. Her hair was its usual messy half up style with trimmed bangs that look like she cut them herself in a dim lit bathroom. Upon returning for her encore, she reentered the stage with the silver tinsel wig she wore in the video for “Shut Up and Kiss Me.”
The band were in their modest country band frocks – powder blue suits
A major high was watching Olsen’s band rock out. Two lead guitarists flanked the stage at both sides. Their sound was playful and fun and while separated, they sounded incredible playing off each other.
Another major high was watching the set closer (before the encore) wrap up with a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I Found a Reason.” Olsen asked the audience to sing along, especially to the hard-to-hit low parts, and to be nice to those singing around following it with a half thought through comment: “because it’s hard”.
A major low was helping catch a middle-aged Mom that fainted at the show. My knee-jerk reaction was to help, so I cradled her head as her lifeless body descended to the floor. She eventually woke, surprised to hear that she had briefly passed out, she immediately said that needed some fresh air. Space and sight lines are always so limited at the Phoenix. I am so grateful for intensified bookings at the Danforth Music Hall.
This sparkly gem wasn’t played last night, but it’s one of my favourite songs… ever: