The National at FirstOntario Concert Hall; Sunday December 11, 2017

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.

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Concert Review: Hamilton Leithauser & Paul Maroon with Aron D’Alesio at the Dakota Tavern

This was an early show on a work night. I wish all shows finished at 9pm.

The last two times I’ve seen the Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser it’s been on January 20, in Toronto and at a very small, sold out venue. The Dakota doesn’t really get too many of my favourite high profile acts. Perhaps in thinning out his sound from the old outfit, Leithauser doesn’t have the draw he may have with the band.

I’ve always dug Leithauser’s crooner-like vocals. Playing in such a small, intimate outfit his vocals become even more important to the sound. It’s amazing that his loud, not-always-pretty wails work with the slow, story-based tunes.

Leithauser announced to the crowd that he and Walkmen guitarist and current tourmate, Paul Maroon, had just released an album. He said he brought some, but sold out at the band’s last gig. Tease.

As a duo, Leithauser told more stories this time. He played a sweet tune inspired by his encounter at his friend’s father at his friend’s wedding. He confessed to the packed house that neither his friend nor her father know it’s about them.

The Hamilton-based opening act Aron D’Alesio won my heart over. In my senior years, I’ve become a lazier and lazier music lover. I take fewer risks and tend to skip out on opening acts. D’Alesio seems to be a shy fella. He hopped onto the stage alone and banged out a handful of songs along with full-band recordings. It felt like a karaoke bout. His sound has been inspired by things from the past, namely sixties girl groups and surf rock. D’Aleslio spends his spare time in group outfit, Young Rival, who seem to be doing some extensive touring for the remainder of the month.

After hunting down D’Alesio’s identity, it hit me that a friend had recommended his music to me. She described him as sounded like the Walkmen. I had a little chuckle with her when I told her he opened up for members of the Walkmen.